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U.S. citizen among those killed in Israeli flotilla raid

Israeli naval commandos seized an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip early Monday, killing at least nine and wounding dozens, and sparking protests and condemnations around the world.

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Netanyahu called the criticism "hypocrisy" and described Gaza, where 1.5 million people live in a narrow slice of dunes and refugee camps between southern Israel and the sea, as "a terror state funded by the Iranians."

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"The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow," he said, just a day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Israel's policy toward Gaza "unsustainable." "It's for this and for many other reasons we have a right to inspect cargo heading into Gaza,'' Netanyahu added.

The flotilla was organized by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish charity that Israeli officials say has connections to radical groups.

In an interview with Charlie Rose broadcast Wednesday night, Vice President Biden agreed that Israel had a right to inspect the cargo. "You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not . . . but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know -- they're at war with Hamas -- has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in," he said.

At the same time, Biden acknowledged that the administration is trying to sway the Israeli government on the issue of Gaza, which has been under some form of an Israeli blockade for five years.

"We have put as much pressure and as much cajoling on Israel as we can to allow them to get building materials" and other designated humanitarian aid into Gaza, he said.

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said that although lifting the blockade is out of the question, Israel shares the administration's goal of improving civilian life in the Gaza Strip. "We are open to the discussion of how best to reconcile the civilian needs of the people of Gaza with Israel's very real security needs," he said in an interview.

The Israeli raid on the flotilla has focused international attention on Israel's closure policy and the mixed results it has achieved.

Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlements from Gaza in 2005 after a nearly four-decade presence in the strip. But it has maintained strict control over the coast and crossing points for goods arriving from Israel, which has come under frequent attack over the years from rockets fired by the Islamist movement Hamas and other armed groups at war with the Jewish state.

In 2007, after Hamas's violent takeover of the strip, Israel effectively closed it to all but a limited amount of humanitarian aid. The goal was to turn the public against Hamas, and prevent arms-making materials from entering. Israel has also linked lifting the blockade -- which includes a ban on nearly all exports from Gaza -- to the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier Hamas captured in Israel in 2006.

But Israel has let several aid flotillas land at Gaza over the past two years, missions designed primarily to draw attention to the blockade. Before Monday's most ambitious attempt to run the blockade, Israel had turned back two previous flotillas and detained some participants for more than a week.

Israel said Wednesday that it had completed the deportation of the more than 700 activists detained after the raid. Most of them were flown to Turkey, which was Israel's chief Muslim ally in the region before the raid but has since withdrawn its ambassador.


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