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Turkey, 12 others denounce Israeli attack Gaza aid ships

Thursday, June 24, 2010 09:17:24 AM, Agencies

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Ankara/Beirut: Turkey and 12 other southeastern European countries on Wednesday denounced the recent Israeli raid on an aid flotilla headed to Gaza, which left eight Turks and one Turkish American dead.

The countries said in a joint declaration at the end of a Balkan summit that they want “an impartial, independent and internationally credible investigation on this matter.” They also stressed the urgent need to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Nine pro-Palestinian activists — eight Turks and an American-Turkish teenager — were killed after a squad of naval commandos stormed a ship trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel says its soldiers began shooting only after a mob of activists attacked them.

The statement came at the end of a meeting of the 13-member Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP).

During the meeting, Serbia’s leader called on the European Union to openly tell his country “without making any excuses” whether it wants Serbia to join the 27-nation bloc or not. Turkey’s president also urged the EU to refrain from steps that would delay membership process.

The criticism by Serbian President Boris Tadic comes despite assurances by the EU earlier this month that the door remains open to Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro if they meet its criteria for joining. The EU’s conditions for membership include strengthening of the rule of law, fighting against corruption and organized crime, guaranteeing media freedom and regional cooperation. So far, no nation in the region has qualified, with Croatia the closest to join probably in 2012.

Kosovo was not represented during the summit, a Turkish official said.

Meanwhile, Lebanon says it will hold Israel responsible for any attack against blockade-busting aid ships planning to sail to Gaza in coming days.

Two ships carrying aid are planning to make the trip to Gaza. Lebanese authorities have so far granted one of them permission to sail first to Cyprus and not directly to Gaza because Lebanon and Israel are technically at war.

A Lebanese official says Lebanon has sent a letter to the UN holding Israel responsible for any attack on the ships and that it cannot stop ships from leaving its ports if they comply with its law.

The official spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media on the record.

Israel has warned it may use force to stop the ships.

In another development, the head of the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency said on Wednesday the fine print of Israel’s pledge to ease its Gaza blockade raised questions about how effective it would prove to be.

Under international pressure over an Israeli commando raid on a relief aid flotilla bound for Gaza that killed nine people, Israel last week announced it would relax its grip on Gaza.

Israel’s rules banned any import into Gaza that was not explicitly permitted. Israel now says it will let in all goods except those on a list that could be used for military purposes, including cement and steel rods.

Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of the refugee agency known as UNRWA, called the blockade “absurd, counterproductive and illegal” and cited elements in Israel’s easing plan that left unclear how it would be fully implemented.

“They’re talking about items that will be allowed for certain times and not other times, depending on who the consignee is. So it’s still very complicated,” he said in Beirut. “We have seen some broad statements of how they will do it but the devil is in the detail. We have to see how this will be done and we haven’t seen it yet.

“We’ve seen many times declarations and statements,” Grandi added. “But now we want to see facts ... Believe me, it’s very urgent, because the conditions are very bad on the ground.” Human rights groups and other critics see the blockade as collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians.

Israel denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as Palestinians, UNRWA officials and rights advocates maintain.

Critics have said Israel’s new rules could still make it hard to import building materials to rebuild the coastal enclave, whose tattered infrastructure suffered severe damage in a war between Israel and Hamas in early 2009.

Grandi called for Gaza’s land crossings to be opened.

UNRWA has said Israel must reopen the Karni cargo terminal on Gaza’s northeast boundary that is large enough to allow industrial-scale shipments of cement, building materials and aid. Instead, trucks are now routed to a narrower crossing.




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