UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned acts that caused the deaths of civilians during an Israeli operation against an aid flotilla heading for Gaza and called for an impartial investigation.
In a carefully crafted formal statement adopted after more than 10 hours of closed-door negotiations and which quickly gave rise to conflicting interpretations, the council requested the immediate release of ships and civilians held by Israel.
Israeli marines on Monday stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, a Palestinian enclave controlled by Hamas Islamists and blockaded by Israel, and detained some 700 people aboard.
The incident, in which the Israeli military said at least nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, sparked widespread condemnation.
The 24-line statement, read to the 15-nation council by its president, Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, said the body “deeply regrets 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, in this context, condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 (sic) civilians and many wounded,” it added. Council statements carry less weight than resolutions, but unlike them have to be unanimous.
Diplomats said that in tortuous negotiations between Turkey — which had brought the matter before an emergency session of the council along with Lebanon — and Israel’s ally the United States, argument had raged over whether the word “act” should be singular or plural.
“Act,” supported by Turkey, would have implied that Israel alone was responsible for the deaths, while “acts” suggested that the activists, who Israel said attacked its commandos, also bore some responsibility.
The council statement, adopted in the small hours of Tuesday morning, also called for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”
Diplomats said the word “independent” had been dropped from early drafts of the statement at U.S. insistence because it suggested that the investigation should not be carried out by Israel itself.
But, speaking to journalists after the statement was adopted, Heller said “impartial” meant the same as “independent” and that the United Nations should determine who would carry out the investigation.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff disagreed. “We ... support an Israeli investigation ... and have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial, transparent, prompt investigation internally,” he told reporters.
Earlier, during a 90-minute public meeting of the council, many speakers criticized Israel’s action and said it was time for Israel’s three-year-old blockade of Gaza to be lifted.
“This is tantamount to banditry and piracy,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the council. “It is murder conducted by a state.” Most of those who died in the incident were Turks, according to one senior Israeli officer.
Wolff criticized the attempt by the flotilla organizers to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza. “Direct delivery (of aid) by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible and certainly not effective under the circumstances,” he said.
Israel’s deputy ambassador, Daniel Carmon, told the council the flotilla was “anything but” a humanitarian mission. Its organizers “cynically used the guise of humanitarian aid to send a message of hate and to implement violence,” he said.
The organizers, some of whom he said were linked to terrorist organizations, had forced Israel to launch its operation, which had been intended as “a preventive measure to counter illegal breakage of the blockade,” Carmon said.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said there was “an unambiguous need for Israel to act with restraint” and called the blockade of Gaza “unacceptable and counterproductive.”
Reporting by Patrick Worsnip, editing by Anthony Boadle