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EU calls for ‘full inquiry’ into Israeli Gaza flotilla raid

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Monday demanded Israeli authorities mount a “full inquiry” into the killing of at least 10 people in a raid on a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza.

Ashton “extends her sympathies to the families of the dead and wounded and is demanding a full inquiry into the circumstances of how this event happened,” said a spokesman.

The EU’s high representative also reiterated a longstanding demand for “an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza,” the spokesman underlined.

“She reiterates the European Union’s position regarding Gaza — the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive.”

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who has announced three days of mourning, termed the raid “a massacre.”

A Turkish charity said at least 15, mostly Turkish nationals, died.

The bloody ending to the high-profile mission to deliver supplies to Gaza came on the eve of a meeting in Washington between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“From an initial report, more than 10 passengers were killed,” an Israeli army spokesman told AFP in what was the first official confirmation of deaths on board the convoy.

He said live ammunition was used by both sides.

According to Israel’s private channel 10 television, Israeli marine commandos opened fire after being attacked with axes and knives by a number of the passengers on board the aid ships, the television said, without giving the source of its information.

Belgian Development Minister Charles Michel, whose country will assume the rotating EU presidency on July 1, deplored “the apparent disproportional use of force by the Israeli army during this intervention which left many dead.”

Some European parliament lawmakers, acting on an individual basis, were aboard the flotilla bringing aid to the Gaza Strip.

“The use of lethal force against civilians on these ships is unacceptable,” said Martin Schulz, head of the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest grouping in the EU parliament.

“The international community must make its revulsion clear to the Israeli authorities,” he added.

Meanwhile the co-heads of the Greens in the EU parliament, Louis Michel and Isabelle Durant, said they “condemn with the greatest strength” the Israeli naval action.

The Israeli mission to the EU published a “background sheet” on the flotilla to Gaza.

“This flotilla is essentially a politically-motivated media event, initiated by anti-Israel activists and extreme Islamic elements, under the guise of an act the organisers are attempting to depict as a humanitarian operation,” the Israeli statement said.

Israel has offered the organisers of the flotilla to transfer their cargo to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod, it added.

“A state of armed conflict exists between Israel and the Hamas regime which has taken control of the Gaza strip… Accordingly, all vessels, including civilian vessels, are strictly prohibited from entering the blockaded area,” it concluded.