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Israel's assault on the 'Gaza flotilla' poses a problem for the EU (upd4)

(BRUSSELS2) EU ambassadors must consult today on the attitude to adopt towards Israel after the attack on ships from the “freedom flotilla” which aimed to bring in humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Gaza. A meeting of the 27 COPS ambassadors from EU member states was urgently convened on Monday afternoon. And several countries have already summoned the Israeli ambassador to their foreign ministry.

Several national deputies (German and Swedish in particular) were on board the boats, as well as a Holocaust survivor, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1976 (on board the Mv Rachel Corrie which has not yet discussed).

A skid of marine commandos

The elite commandos of the Israeli navy, Shayetet 13, attacked, in the early morning (4 a.m.), the Turkish-flagged ship, Mavi Marmara, which was closest to the coast. Turkish television announced between 10 and 15 deaths and several dozen injured (60). At the end of the morning, an Israeli television channel announced the figure of 19 dead. Israeli forces confirmed 10 deaths among passengers and injuries without giving a figure. Tuesday morning, the death toll appeared to stand at 9 deaths.

Israeli forces explained that they had to react to a threatening attitude when the men dropped by the helicopters arrived on the deck of the ship. Bladed weapons were allegedly used against the soldiers. And one of their weapons was even turned against them by the militant activists. 4 members of the marine commandos were injured. All the injured (civilians and soldiers) were repatriated to Israeli hospitals to receive treatment.

Summoning of Israeli ambassadors to Europe, first measure

Spain, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, summoned the Israeli ambassador in Madrid to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Secretary of State for European Affairs, Diego López Garrido, described the military action as “unacceptable” and the situation of “extremely serious“. In Greece, the Israeli diplomat was urgently summoned in the morning. Same in Ireland and Sweden (1) as well as in Denmark, Belgium and France.

In Paris, President Sarkozy was very cautious. He has “condemned the disproportionate use of force and sends its condolences to the families of the victims. Full light must be shed on the circumstances of this tragedy, which underlines the urgency of relaunching the peace process. » Other reactions should follow during the day.

First measured reaction from the High Representative of the EU: request for internal investigation

While awaiting the outcome of the ambassadors' meeting, the High Representative, Cathy Ashton, who is traveling to Warsaw, made, through the spokesperson for the European Commission, a first rather measured statement. “She deeply regrets what happened and expresses her compassion to the families affected” explained his spokesperson. Cathy Ashton has as well “condemned any act of violence and excessive use of force” and asked “an immediate investigation by the Israeli authorities. »

She also repeated her position already posted at the end of last week : " The ongoing blockade policy is unacceptable and politically counterproductive ". We want " an immediate, lasting and unconditional opening of crossing points for humanitarian aid, goods and people coming from and or going to Gaza.”

Strong condemnation in the European Parliament: a violation of the Geneva Convention

In the European Parliament, Green leader Dany Cohn-Bendit called for an emergency debate. And Véronique de Keyser, who returns from a visit by a delegation to Gaza, led by French MP Eva Joly, believes that this “This incident shows us that we have reached a point of no return. We must now demand from Israel to end the blockade of Gaza completely.

As for the President of the European Parliament, the Polish Jerzy Buzek (Citizens' Platform PO / EPP), he had very harsh words. He felt that this attack est “unjustified and constitutes a clear and unacceptable violation of international law, in particular the 4th Geneva Convention. We demand that Israel explain its actions immediately, with the greatest transparency and guarantees of full accountability by cooperating in any investigation that may be established. (…) The European Parliament urgently calls on the High Representative to take initiatives within the framework of the Quartet to force Israel to lift the siege on the population of Gaza immediately and unconditionally. We cannot tolerate 80% of Gaza's population living below the poverty level. »

“Serious” situation for Israel and Gaza

The situation appears, in fact, serious for the Hebrew State. According to international law, the establishment of a blockade can be considered an act of war. This assault could lead to an evolution of certain positions within the European Union, which was for the moment quite divided on the Israeli and Palestinian question, and rather wait-and-see.

(1) Country of origin of the boats. The flotilla indeed includes 6 vessels, mainly European: Turkish, Irish, Swedish, Greek, Kuwaiti and Algerian.

First pictures

See Aljazeera's first report on board the Mavi Marmara taken over by CNN Türk (the death toll was only 2 dead at this time):

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).