CEDRIC MBOYISA and SAPA
31 May 2010
JOHANNESBURG - Israel has been widely condemned for its deadly attack on a six-ship flotilla carrying aid to the people of Gaza yesterday.
The South African government, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the Esteemed Elders Group, the African Union and the Coalition for a Free Palestine were united in their criticism of Israel.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said: “We, as Elders, condemn Israel utterly for this attack. The actions of the Israelis are inexcusable.”
The Elders Group includes members such as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former US President Jimmy Carter.
Tutu said the Elders wanted an urgent investigation into the “tragic incident” after Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara (an international humanitarian aid boat) as it sailed with a flotilla to Gaza.
The government said it condemned all military aggression by Israel against innocent civilians including those in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
“South Africa notes with the gravest concern reports that Israeli forces have attacked a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza and that there are casualties following the attack.
“The convoy was on a peaceful mission and the ships were not armed. For Israel to attack these civilian ships in international waters is a gross violation of international law and is deserving of the highest level of international condemnation.”
The African Union said it was “deeply shocked” by the deadly raid.
Cosatu called on the South African government to withdraw its ambassadors from Israel. It also called for the boycott of Israeli goods.
“Cosatu also calls for greater support for the international boycott, divestment and sanction campaign against Israel which is proving again to be violent and ruthless in attacking and murdering those who stand in its way. The ships were bringing the people of Gaza 10 000 tons of badly-needed concrete, toys, workbooks, chocolate, pasta and substantial medical supplies.
“It was acting in accordance with international law,” said spokesman Patrick Craven.
But the Israeli Defence Force has said it had tried to intercept the ships to search them, but were then fired on and attacked with knives and clubs.
AFP says the soldiers had been given full backing by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Coalition for a Free Palestine says Israeli troops killed at least 19 civilians of the aid convoy and injured dozens more.
“The attack was a direct violation of international law and reflects the Israelis’ arrogant and flagrant disregard for law and human rights.
“The convoy of ships was carrying 750 people from 40 different countries including 35 international politicians, members of parliament, former diplomats, human rights activists, aid workers and journalists and was destined for the Gaza port of Rafah,” it said.
The coalition enjoys the backing of Cosatu, Samwu, the Palestine Solidarity Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Palestine Solidarity Alliance, the Muslim Judicial Council and the Muslim Youth Movement.
The SA Zionist Federation said accusations against Israel were without foundation.
“Israel fulfilled the tenets of international law by warning these ships repeatedly of the existence of the maritime blockade off the coast of Gaza.
“The federation strongly condemns the distorted and overt media bias which, yet again, has ignored the role of terrorist group Hamas and its supporters who promote violence and aggression under the guise of humanitarian activity in favour of damning Israel based solely on one-sided, prejudicial and fallacious information.”