By Tovah Lazaroff and Yaakov Lappin, www.JPost.Com
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a press conference on Monday that while he was sorry for lives lost, the organizers of the Gaza-bound protest flotilla were solely responsible for the outcome of the fatal Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raid earlier in the day. Fifteen activists were killed and dozens wounded in the violent clashes.
Barak said that the soldiers tried to disperse the activists aboard the ship peacefully but were forced to open fire to protect themselves.
He called the flotilla a provocation, specifically called the Islamic aid organization IHH “extremist supporters of terror.”
The defense minister also called on Arab and Palestinian leaders not to let this “provocation by irresponsible people” ruin the progress made in proximity peace talks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking in Canada where he is currently on an official visit, said he ‘fully supported the IDF operation’.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Monday that the violence aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships of the Gaza-bound protest flotilla, was instigated by those aboard the ships and that soldiers who opened fire were defending themselves.
Ashkenazi noted that the Mavi Marmara, the only ship on which violence took place, was different than the other five ships of the flotilla. He said that five ships carried humanitarians and peace activists but the Mavi Marmara was sponsored by the extremist organization IHH and those aboard acted in “extreme violence.”
Israeli Navy commander Vice-Admiral Eliezer Marom said Monday that IDF soldiers that raided Mavi Marmara acted with “perseverance and bravery.”
Marom said that the soldiers lives were in danger and that they fired their weapons in self-defense. He added that given the situation, many more than ten people could have been killed if the soldiers had not acted with the proper sensitivity.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that the flotilla of ships “was an armada of hate and violence.”
Speaking at a Jerusalem press conference on Monday morning: “It was a premeditated and outrageous provocation” and its organizers had ties to global Jihad, al-Qaeda and Hamas, said Ayalon. “Their intent was violent, their methods were violent, and their results were unfortunately violent.”
“Israel regrets the loss of life and did everything it could to avoid this outcome,” Ayalon stressed, adding that Israel had offered to transport the humanitarian cargo on board the ship to Gaza.
“The organizers on the ship did not heed the calls of our forces this morning to peacefully follow them and bring a peaceful closure to this event,” said Ayalon, iterating that the successful arrival of the flotilla in Gaza would have created “a corridor of arms smuggling.”