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Pressure Grows on Israel After Fatal Raid on Gaza Aid Flotilla


Pressure is growing on Israel after its commandos raided a flotilla of aid ships that were trying to break the blockade on Gaza. The raid early Monday, in which nine activists died, has set off a wave of international criticism. But very little of that criticism is coming from people at home.

Israel began sending home some of the nearly 700 pro-Palestinian activists who were aboard the six vessels.

Some, like this Turkish man, spoke of the violence they witnessed when Israeli commandos came down on the main ship, a Turkish vessel, during the raid in the eastern Mediterranean.

He says the commandos came down from helicopters and attacked the activists. He said the commandos first warned the activists, who had told the soldiers they were not armed.

Israeli military officials point to video that shows activists hitting the commandos with iron bars and chairs, and say the soldiers acted in self-defense when they opened fire.

The ships are sitting at the Israeli port of Ashdod. Some of their passengers were led away in handcuffs. Authorities say those who are agreeing to expulsion are being taken to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport and flown home.

By late Tuesday, scores had been repatriated. They included American Edward Peck, a former diplomat who had served as U.S. ambassador to Mauritania.

Hundreds of others remained at detention centers across Israel. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told VOA some could be put on trial for attacking the commandos. "Those who have been clearly identified as aggressors are being questioned by the security service and it is possible that they will be prosecuted," he said.

As international condemnation mounts, there is also some criticism at home of how the raid was carried out. Newspaper columnists and some members of the opposition questioned the legality of the operation, and whether the flotilla could have been intercepted without using force.

But overall Israelis express overwhelming support for the raid. Many have little sympathy for those in the Gaza Strip, where militants have been firing rockets at Israel for several years. Some believe that lifting the blockade would be opening the door to a flow of weapons that would be used to attack Israelis.

On Jerusalem's busy Ben Yehuda Street, a man says the Israeli military acted in the interest of protecting its citizens when it intercepted the flotilla. He says it was the right thing to do because there simply was no other choice.

Another man says he has doubts about the methods the commandos used, and worries about the raid's effects on Israel's image overseas. "In general, it was the right thing to do, but not in the way it was done," he said.

Israel has begun moving cargo from the aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip after inspecting it.

Egypt announced it is temporarily lifting the blockade it has been enforcing, along with Israel, on the Gaza Strip.

Tensions remained high along Israel's border with Gaza, where the Israeli military says gunfire erupted after militants crossed the border from Gaza into Israel and opened fire at soldiers.

Israeli war planes struck targets in Gaza on Tuesday in response to a rocket attack.

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