Israeli commandos boarded the largest of these ships, the Mavi Marmara, descending by ropes from helicopters in the middle of the night. Fierce fighting ensued. Commandos killed nine passengers and injured about 20 more. Seven Israeli soldiers were injured.
All six seized ships, carrying some 10,000 tons of supplies, were forced to sail to the Israeli port Ashdod. After a couple days of detention, the Israeli government announced it was deporting most of the nearly 700 passengers. About 50 would still be held for further investigation, reported AP.
In response to the ship seizures, the Turkish government, which has cooperated closely with the Israeli government on trade and military matters, canceled three joint military exercises scheduled with Israel. More than 200 of the passengers aboard the flotilla ships were from Turkey.
The White House expressed regret at the loss of life, but did not condemn the Israeli governments actions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Gaza unsustainable.
The sealing off of the Gaza Strip to any aid except that authorized by the Israeli government has had a devastating impact on the 1.5 million people living there. With food shortages and unemployment at more than 50 percent, four in five Gazans are dependent on humanitarian aid, according to an Amnesty International report.
Israeli forces occupied the Gaza Strip for 38 years, after capturing the territory from Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. They withdrew in 2005 but maintain tight economic control over the area.
Israeli authorities said they are sending some of the supplies from the flotilla into Gaza after they are examined. Among the items excluded is cement, vital in housing construction but rejected on the grounds that it could reinforce smuggling tunnels, reported the Christian Science Monitor. Hamas officials who run the government in Gaza said it would not accept the aid unless shipments were complete.
Under mounting pressure, Cairo, which has cooperated with the Israeli government in imposing the blockade, opened its Rafah border crossing to Gaza for an unlimited time.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a meeting with his political-security cabinet, insisted that international condemnation would not stop Israels naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, reported Haaretz.
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