Dozens of activists and six Israeli soldiers were wounded in the bloody predawn confrontation in international waters. The violent takeover dealt yet another blow to
Israel's international image, already tarnished by war crimes accusations in and its 3-year-old blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory. Gaza
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu canceled a much-anticipated meeting with President Barack Obama in
Washington on Tuesday in a sign of just how gravely viewed the international uproar. In Israel , Netanyahu announced he was rushing home. Canada
Reaction was swift and harsh, with a massive protest in
The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting later Monday to hear a briefing on the incident, said
The showdown came at a sensitive time for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Netanyahu, who expressed his "full backing" for the military raid, had hoped to receive a high-profile expression of support from Obama after months of strained relations over Israeli settlement construction.
The White House said in a written statement that the United States "deeply regrets" the loss of life and injuries and was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this "tragedy."
The activists were headed to
There were conflicting accounts of what happened early Monday, with activists claiming the Israelis fired first and
Helicopters evacuated the wounded to Israeli hospitals, officials said. Three ships had reached port by early evening and some 80 activists had been removed without serious incident, the military said.
The footage filmed from Israeli aircraft and released by the military showed activists swarming around commandos after they descended from a helicopter by rope onto a boat carrying 600 passengers. Activists scuffled with the commandos and are seen throwing an object the military identified as a firebomb.
A commando who spoke to reporters on a naval vessel off the coast, identified only as "A," said he and his comrades were taken off guard by a group of Arabic-speaking men when they rappelled onto the deck.
He said some of the soldiers were stripped of their helmets and equipment and thrown from the top deck to the lower deck, and that some had even jumped overboard to save themselves. At one point one of the activists seized one of the soldiers' weapons and opened fire, the commando said.
A high-ranking naval official displayed a box confiscated from the boat containing switchblades, slingshots, metal balls and metal bats. "We prepared (the soldiers) to deal with peace activists, not to fight," he said. Most of the dead were Turkish, he added.
Before communications to the boats were severed, a Turkish website showed video of pandemonium on board one of the vessels, with activists in orange life jackets running around as some tried to help an activist lying motionless on the deck. The site also showed video of an Israeli helicopter flying overhead and Israeli warships nearby.
Activists said Israeli naval commandos stormed the ships after ordering them to stop in international waters, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from
A reporter with the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, who was sailing on the Turkish ship leading the flotilla, said the Israelis fired at the vessel before boarding it, wounding the captain.
"These savages are killing people here, please help," a Turkish television reporter said.
The broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, "Everybody shut up!"
At a news conference in Tel Aviv,
"To me it is clear without a doubt, judging by what I saw and what I heard in the first reports from the soldiers, that in light of the danger to human life this violence required the use of weapons," Ashkenazi said.
Robin Churchill, a professor of international law at the
"As far as I can see, there is no legal basis for boarding these ships," Churchill said.
Many of the activists were from
At Barzilai hospital in the southern Israeli city of
The European Union deplored what it called excessive use of force and demanded an investigation by
Thousands marched in protest in
Israeli security forces were on alert across the country for possible protests, but no serious unrest were reported.
There were no details on the identities of the casualties, or on the conditions of some of the more prominent people on board, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli "aggression," declared three days of mourning across the
Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the rival Hamas government in
Before the ships set sail from waters off
Organizers included the IHH, an Islamic humanitarian group that is based in
The flotilla of three cargo ships and three passenger ships carrying 10,000 tons of aid and 700 activists was carrying items that
Goldenberg reported from aboard the Israeli warship INS Kidon. AP writers Selcan Hacaoglu in