Israel Storms Aid Convoy, 15 Dead

A convoy of six ships carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip was intercepted by Israeli forces on Monday, leaving 15 dead and sparking international concern.

The convoy, which was carrying some six hundred people along with medical and other relief supplies, left Cyprus on Sunday in an attempt to deliver the aid to the Gaza Strip, which is currently blockaded by Israeli naval forces.

Israel had warned the flotilla that they would use "force if necessary" to prevent the ships from landing.

On Monday, Israeli forces boarded the convoys lead ship, where they claimed that they were attacked with knives, axes, metal bars and live ammunition.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the flotilla a "political provocation," and claimed that the Turkish terrorist organization IHH, which was among the flotilla's organizers, was responsible for the violence.

A spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement, who organized the flotilla, said that the only resistance aboard the ship was "symbolic," such as blocking entrances to the ship's steering room to prevent the soldiers from taking control, and denied that any passengers were using guns.

International leaders have expressed shock and dismay over the loss of life in the incident, as well as the alleged disproportionality of force used by the Israeli soldiers.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his "profound emotion in the face of the tragic consequences of the Israeli military operation" and condemned the "disproportionate use of force" by the Israeli military.

Ulrich Wilhelm, spokesman for the German government, said that while Germany "supports unconditionally Israel's right to self defence," Israeli actions should correspond to the "basic principle" of proportionality.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi called the incident a "very painful fact, in particularly because of the loss of human lives," adding that the Vatican was against violence "from whatever side it comes."

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have both called for a full investigation into the incident.

Ashton added that Israel's continued blockade of Gaza is "unacceptable and politically counter-productive," and called for an "immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossing for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza."

White House spokesperson William Burton said that the U.S. "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

The White House also noted that President Barack Obama's scheduled meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday might be cancelled as Netanyahu is considering returning home to address the situation.

Meanwhile, the World Council of Churches (WCC), who are in the middle of a week's worth of activities dedicated to lobbying for peace between Palestine and Israel, also expressed their sorrow over Monday's skirmish.

"The call to be peacemakers is a holy call," said the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, during a service in Geneva on Monday. "This year the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel is once more timely…with people seeking to show the need for humanitarian aid going to Gaza being killed this morning."

"This year again we need even more than before to point to how settlements and occupation are real obstacles to a just peace," he added. "All parties must stop violence and find the way forward."

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