Germany says Gaza raid appears disproportionate

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Germany said Israel's raid Monday on a convoy carrying Palestinian activists and aid to Gaza appeared disproportionate, in an unusually strong statement against its traditional ally.

"Every German government has always recognised and supported the right of Israel to defend itself, but this right must of course be within the boundaries of proportionality," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman told reporters.

"This basic tenet is a key part of international law ... At first glance it does not look like this basic rule was adhered to."

The spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, added: "But one should not draw conclusions just from preliminary appearances and a comprehensive clarification of the facts is needed."

For historical reasons, Germany has traditionally been a close ally of Israel and reluctant to criticise the Jewish state's actions.

"Germany is shocked by the serious incident that took place in international waters off Gaza," Wilhelm told a regular government briefing. "The German government is deeply disturbed by the loss of life."

He added: "The European Union already stated in December 2009 that the blockade of the Gaza Strip was unacceptable and politically counterproductive.

"The German government continues to share this assessment and calls on the Israeli government to end this blockade without delay, as demanded by the United Nations Security Council."

He added however that the European Union also demands that the Islamist militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, recognises Israel's right to exist.

A foreign ministry spokesman said that it also had to be determined what goods the ships were carrying, "and whether, for example, weapons could have been on board."

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that he believed six people living in Germany were on board ships in the convoy, including two members of parliament from the far-left Die Linke party. Berlin was attempting to locate them, he said.

According to Israel's Channel 10 TV, 19 passengers were killed and 36 wounded in the raid before dawn on Monday.

The Israeli army said more than 10 people had died in the operation and said between 15 and 30 passengers were wounded.

© 2010 AFP

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