United Nations – After a 12-hour emergency session that lasted until early Tuesday, the 15-member U.N. Security Council was unanimous in its condemnation of Israel for the killing of at least 10 civilians who were part of a flotilla of six ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The condemnation came in a presidential statement, falling far short of a resolution, by a Security Council where the United States has exercised its veto powers with monotonous regularity to protect Israel from sanctions and charges of war crimes.
But that did not deter Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu from accusing Israel of “banditry and piracy”.
Currently, Turkey is one of 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, along with the five veto-wielding members, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.
The armed forces of a U.N. member state had committed a serious crime in total disregard of all the United Nations values by storming a multinational, civilian endeavour, killing and wounding many civilians, Davutoglu said.
“This action was uncalled for and a grave breach of international law,” he declared.
In simplest terms, he said, this is tantamount to banditry and piracy. “It is murder conducted by a state. It has no excuses, no justification whatsoever,” he said.
There were reports that some of the civilians killed were Turkish nationals and some of the ships were operating under Turkish flags. The Israeli action was criticised by virtually every single member of the Security Council, including France, Britain, China and Russia.
The United States, however, was more tempered in its criticism and refused to use strong language to condemn one of its enduring political and military allies – long considered a sacred cow inside and outside the Security Council chambers.
U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, second in command to Ambassador Susan Rice, expressed his “regrets” for the tragic loss of life and injury.
But he said he expected a credible and transparent investigation and urged the Security Council to conduct one fully.
Wolff said Monday’s confrontation recalled a similar situation in 2008, when the United States had stressed “that non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms existed for humanitarian aid delivery into Gaza”.
“The direct delivery by sea was not appropriate, or responsible,” he added.
Still, he stressed the need for allowing humanitarian goods, including construction materials, into Gaza, while recognising Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
Wolff expressed deep concern over the suffering of Gaza civilians. “The situation was unsustainable and not in the interest of anyone concerned,” he said.
He said it was necessary to address the full range of humanitarian and recovery needs of Palestinians.
But “interference by Hamas”, considered a terrorist organisation by the United States but voted into power by the Palestinians, “had complicated humanitarian efforts in Gaza, and it had undermined security and prosperity for all Palestinians.”
Briefing delegates, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, assistant secretary-general for political affairs, said Monday’s bloodshed would have been avoided if repeated calls on Israel to end the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza had been heeded.
He said the incident had taken place some 40 nautical miles off the coast, in international waters, and had reportedly involved Israeli military personnel boarding the vessels, supported by naval ships and helicopters.
Given the circumstances, he said, it is not possible to state definitively the sequence or details of what happened.
The Israeli delegate, Daniel Carmon, defended the actions of the Israeli commandos while condemning the peace activists and accusing them of “embracing Hamas and terrorist organisations that openly shunned a two-state solution and called for Israel’s destruction”.
“The answer is clear. They are not peace activists; they are not messengers of goodwill. They cynically use the guise of humanitarian aid to send a message of hate and to implement violence,” he added.
In its presidential statement – which lacks the political and diplomatic clout of a resolution – the Security Council deeply regretted the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza.
The Council condemned those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and many wounded, and expressed its condolences to their families.
At the same time, the Security Council requested “the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel”.
The Council also urged Israel to permit full consular access, to allow the countries concerned to retrieve their deceased and wounded immediately, and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination.
The Security Council also took note of a statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the need to conduct a full investigation into the matter and called for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.
The Security Council also very clearly declared “that the situation in Gaza is not sustainable”.