Middle East

Turkey mourns dead Gaza activists

Turkey has held funerals for nine activists killed in Israel's raid on a Gaza aid flotilla amid emotional scenes.

The bodies were flown from Israel to Istanbul, along with more than 450 activists, to a heroes' welcome.

Israel has said there is no need for an international inquiry into the incident, insisting its own will meet the "highest international standards".

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) voted earlier to set up an investigation.

US President Barack Obama has described the situation as "tragic".

But in an interview on CNN, he also says Israel does have "legitimate security concerns" in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his troops had no choice but to stop the ships.

He argued the flotilla had been aiming not to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans, but to break Israel's blockade.

It was Israel's duty to prevent rockets and other weapons being smuggled into Gaza to Hamas by Iran and others, he said.

Turkey, which has had relatively warm ties with Israel in recent history, recalled its ambassador after the incident on Monday.

'Barbarism and oppression'

Its President, Abdullah Gul, said relations between the two countries would "never be the same".

"This incident has left an irreparable and deep scar" on relations, he told reporters in Ankara.

In a fiery speech at Istanbul airport, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc accused Israel of "piracy" and "barbarism and oppression".

Crowds of people, some wearing Palestinian-style scarves, gathered in the city to meet the coffins, swathed in Turkish flags, at the Ottoman-era Fatih mosque.

The funerals took place in a strongly Islamist part of the city and emotions were running high, reported the BBC's Bethany Bell.

One of the bodies was due to be buried in Istanbul while the other eight were being taken to their home towns, AFP news agency reported.

Turkish post-mortem examinations found all nine of the dead had been shot, some at close range.

The dead include a 19-year-old Turkish citizen with an American passport - hit by four bullets in the head and one in the chest - and a national taekwondo athlete, Turkish media say.

The bodies arrived, along with the 450 activists, in three aircraft chartered by the Turkish government at Istanbul airport in the early hours of Thursday, after several hours of delays.

Mr Arinc said his government saluted the Turkish Islamic charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), which played a leading role in organising the convoy - a charity Israel has accused of supporting terrorism.

IHH leader Bulent Yildrim said upon his arrival back in Istanbul that he believed the death toll could be higher than nine, as his organisation had a longer list of missing people.

British activist Sarah Colbourne told the BBC: "I couldn't even count the amount of ships that were in the water. It was literally bristling with ships, helicopters and gunfire. It was horrific, absolutely horrific."

Swedish author Henning Mankell, who was aboard one of the ships in the flotilla, has dismissed the idea that weapons were being carried by the activists.

"On the ship I was on, they found one weapon: my razor. And they actually came up and showed it off, my razor, so you see what level this was at," the author of the popular Wallander detective novels told Swedish radio.

'Double standard'

Consular staff were on hand in Istanbul to help the activists from other countries. They include 34 people who hold British passports.

HOW ISRAEL RAID UNFOLDED
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.
HOW ISRAEL RAID UNFOLDED
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.
HOW ISRAEL RAID UNFOLDED
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.
HOW ISRAEL RAID UNFOLDED
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.
HOW ISRAEL RAID UNFOLDED
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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Doctors in Ankara, where some of the severely injured were taken, say they have been treating people for bullet wounds. Three people are in intensive care.

Seven other activists are in a serious condition and will remain in Israeli hospitals until they can be moved, Israeli officials say.

Another plane carrying 31 Greek activists, three French nationals and one American flew into Athens early on Thursday.

More than 100 relatives and supporters cheered and shouted pro-Palestinian slogans at the airport.

Rejecting the proposed HRC investigation, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said demands for an external inquiry showed a double standard towards the Jewish state.

When American or British troops were accused of killing civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, he said, it was the US or Britain that carried out the investigation, not an international body.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested attaching international observers to an internal Israeli inquiry.

"We have excellent jurists... one of whom will be willing to take it on himself, and if they want to include an international member of some sort in their committee that's alright too," he told Israel radio.

The US, Israel's most important ally, has already made it clear it will accept an Israeli-led inquiry, the BBC's Andrew North reports from Jerusalem.

New ship

Talk in Gaza is now turning to the next ship on its way across the Mediterranean to try to break the blockade, the BBC's Jon Donnison reports from the territory.

Image caption The MV Rachel Corrie is expected in the blockade area within days

The Rachel Corrie - carrying 15 people including Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire - had been due to be part of the original flotilla but was delayed because of technical problems.

The ship could be in the region by Saturday, our correspondent reports. Israel has said it will not be allowed to dock in Gaza.

"Everybody was very upset at what happened [with the flotilla]," Irish crew member Derek Graham told Reuters news agency by telephone.

"Everybody has been more determined than ever to continue on to Gaza."

Meanwhile, some of the 10,000 tonnes of aid seized from the flotilla by Israel has been returned to the Israeli port of Ashdod after being left stranded at a Gaza-Israel crossing.

The Hamas government in control of Gaza refused to accept the aid until Israeli-Arab activists from the flotilla were released.

Were you on board the flotilla? Are you in Turkey or Israel? Are you affected by the issues raised in this story?

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