Netanyahu gives military 'full backing' over raid

OTTAWA — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his "full backing" Monday to Israel's military forces after a raid on a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, which left up to 19 people dead.

"The prime minister... reiterated his full backing for the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and inquired about the well being of the wounded," his office told AFP in Ottawa.

Netanyahu was meeting Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ahead of a high-profile visit to Washington on Tuesday, where he is due to hold talks with President Barack Obama.

Up to 19 people aboard a flotilla of ships carrying aid for the Gaza Strip were killed earlier Monday when Israeli navy commandos stormed the vessels in international waters.

The incident prompted a wave of international condemnation, as Israel said it was forced to board the ships to uphold its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Obama on Tuesday in their first face-to-face talks since a frosty White House meeting in March that was viewed by many as an attempt to humiliate Netanyahu in the wake of a spat over settlements.

The Jerusalem Post reports, "Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a press conference on Monday that while he was sorry for lives lost, the organizers of the Gaza-bound protest flotilla were solely responsible for the outcome of the fatal IDF raid earlier in the day. Fifteen activists were killed and dozens wounded in the violent clashes."

Barak said that the soldiers tried to disperse the activists aboard the ship peacefully but were forced to open fire to protect themselves.

He called the flotilla a provocation, specifically called the IHH, an Islamic aid organization, "extremist supporters of terror."

The defense minister also called on Arab and Palestinian leaders not to let this "provocation by irresponsible people" ruin the progress made in proximity peace talks.

The paper notes that IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi claimed Monday that "the Mavi Marmara, the only ship on which violence took place, was different than the other five ships of the flotilla. He said that five ships carried humanitarians and peace activists but the Mavi Marmara was sponsored by the extremist organization the IHH and those aboard acted in 'extreme violence.'"

Israeli Navy commander Vice-Admiral Eliezer Marom said Monday that IDF soldiers that raided Mavi Marmara acted with "perseverance and bravery."

A wires compilation at The National adds,

Meanwhile, the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas slammed the raid as "a massacre".

"We consider this to be a massacre and we condemn it," an official from Abbas' office said on Palestinian television, announcing a three-day mourning period.

"We will have to take some difficult decisions this evening."

Hamas immediately urged Arabs and Muslims to "rise up" in front of Israeli embassies across the globe in protest against the raid on the fleet of aid ships, among them Turkish vessels.

"We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the whole world," said a Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, using the Arabic word 'intifada'.


The Vatican voiced "deep sadness" over the Israeli raid on the flotilla. The Holy See feels "deep sadness and concern" over the pre-dawn storming of the aid flotilla in which up to 19 pro-Palestinian activists were killed, a Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

(with additional reporting by Raw Story)