By Colum Lynch
Washington Post staff writer
Monday, May 31, 2010; 6:34 PM
UNITED NATIONS, MAY 31 -- Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, urged the U.N. Security Council in an emergency session Monday to condemn Israel's raid on a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip and to set up a U.N. inquiry to hold accountable those responsible for it.
"Turkey would like to see that the Security Council strongly reacts and adopts a presidential statement strongly condemning this Israeli act of aggression, demanding an urgent inquiry into the incident and calling for the punishment of all responsible authorities," he said in an address to the 15-nation council. "I call on this council to step up and do what is expected of it."
Behind closed doors, U.S. diplomats sought to prevent the council from authorizing a U.N. investigation into the Israeli raid, saying Israel should be given a chance to conduct a credible investigation first.
At least nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed and dozens were injured when Israeli naval commandos took control of the boats about 70 miles offshore in international waters early Monday. Turkey sent the main Mavi Marmara ship, which carried 600 activists and thousands of tons of aid.
The Turkish initiative at the United Nations placed the United States in the difficult position of trying to mediate between two important allies. Alejandro Wolff, the United States' second-highest ranking ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States is still trying to "ascertain the facts" but that it "regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries." Wolff said the United States expects "a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urges the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully."
But Wolff also scolded the members of the humanitarian convoy, saying that their unapproved delivery of aid "by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances." Wolff said that "non-provocative and non-confrontational" procedures exist for delivering assistance to Gazans.
Turkey outlined its initiative at the opening of a highly emotional emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, which provided a barometer of international anger over the Israeli attack. In unusually harsh terms, the Turkish minister compared Israel's action as "tantamount to banditry piracy" and accused Israeli leaders of lying about the alleged presence of radical Islamists on the aid ships. "It saddens me to see that officials of a state stoop so low as to lie and struggle to create pretexts that would legitimize their illegal actions."
John Holmes, the U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator, also strongly criticized the Israeli action, saying: "I condemn this dreadful waste of life over a humanitarian issue. Whatever the truth about what happened, which the full investigation called for by the secretary general should establish quickly, such an incident should never have happened or needed to happen.
Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador, Daniel Carmon, countered that the flotilla's intention was to break what he described as a legal maritime blockade on Gaza and that some of the activists had "known terrorist history."
"What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and other weapons to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?" Carmon told the council. "The answer is clear: They are not peace activists; they are not messengers of good will. They cynically use a humanitarian platform to send a message of hate and to implement violence.
The draft statement introduced by Turkey condemns Israel in the "strongest terms" for the attack on the aid flotilla and "deeply regrets the loss of life" and expresses condolences to families of the dead. It also calls on Israel to pay compensation to those affected by the attack.
The statement characterizes Israel's action as a "clear violation of international law," establishing that it occurred in international waters, and asks U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "undertake an independent international investigation by the U.N. to determine how this bloodshed took place and to ensure that those responsible would be held accountable."
The draft statement would call for the immediate lifting of a three-year-long blockade on Gaza, saying that blockade is "neither acceptable nor sustainable." It also calls on the Israelis to immediately release the ship as well as the passengers currently in Israeli custody.