Middle East

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu stands by raid on ship

A Turkish airliner flies low over Ben Gurion airport, 2 June
Image caption Turkish planes are flying more than 500 activists out of Israel

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel had "no other choice" but to stop the flotilla of ships which tried to break the Gaza blockade on Monday.

Nine activists were killed when Israeli troops raided one of the ships in an operation widely criticised by Turkey, which recalled its ambassador in protest, and others.

"This was not a love boat, this was a boat of hate," Mr Netanyahu said.

Planes carrying hundreds of expelled activists have arrived in Turkey.

They landed in Istanbul from Israel's Ben Gurion airport in the early hours of Thursday.

Earlier, two Turkish air ambulances had flown those wounded during the storming of the aid ships to Ankara.

The deportations follow the expulsion of about 120 other activists from mainly Muslim countries who were taken by bus to Jordan earlier on Wednesday.

International outcry

Four of the activists who were killed were Turkish, and Turkey's parliament has called for relations with Israel to be reviewed.

As activists accused Israeli forces of brutality, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council voted to set up an independent international inquiry into the raid.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon also demanded that Israel lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip immediately.

Mr Ban called the siege "counter-productive, unsustainable and wrong".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the international Quartet's Middle East envoy, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, also called for the blockade to be lifted.

"What [Israel] should be doing is allow material in to rebuild homes and sanitation and power and water systems, and allow business to flourish," Mr Blair told Reuters news agency in an interview in Bethlehem.

The Israeli prime minister, who visited injured commandos in hospital in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, said the soldiers had been met by a "vicious mob" and had acted to defend themselves.

He said that it was Israel's duty to prevent rockets and other weapons being smuggled into Gaza to Hamas by Iran and others.

The flotilla, he argued, was not aiming to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans but was trying to break the blockade.

Israel would not allow Gaza to become an "Iranian port in the Mediterranean", he said.

He dismissed criticism of the raid as "an attack of international hypocrisy".

"I regret to say that for many in the international community no evidence is needed: Israel is guilty until proven guilty," he remarked.

Earlier, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak thanked the commandos involved in the raid when he visited them at their base in Atlit.

"We live in the Middle East, in a place where there is no mercy for the weak and there aren't second chances for those who don't defend themselves," he was quoted by Haaretz newspaper as saying.

Israel is still holding three Israeli Arabs who were detained on the flotilla.

The flotilla of six ships, including the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, was on its way from Cyprus to Gaza carrying supplies including cement, paper and water purification tablets.
As the flotilla, still in international waters, neared Gaza, Israeli commandos intercepted the boats from air and sea. This image shows a soldier rappelling from a helicopter onto the upper deck of the ferry.
The Israelis say their soldiers were set upon and beaten with bats, chairs and metal poles as soon as they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Activists say the soldiers attacked them first.
As the incident escalated, the Israelis used live weapons on the activists, although the exact circumstances are unclear. This still from Turkish TV footage shows first aid being given to an injured activist.
At the end of the incident at least nine activists were dead. Israel escorted the flotilla to the port of Ashdod and detained the protesters. An online maritime tracking map shows the route taken by the boats.
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