WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration wants Israel to conduct a "full and credible" investigation into a clash that left nine people dead when Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla bringing aid to the Gaza Strip.
"The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident today aboard the Gaza-bound ships," P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement. "We are working to ascertain the facts, and expect that the Israeli government will conduct a full and credible investigation."
Israel’s Navy intercepted six ships early Monday morning about 70 miles off Gaza’s coast in international waters. The ships were among a fleet of nine carrying humanitarian aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists.
The Gaza "Freedom Flotilla," organized by the pro-Hamas Free Gaza group, had left last week from ports in Ireland, Greece and Turkey.
Upon boarding the largest ship, the Marmara, run by IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief fund with a radical Islamic anti-Western orientation, the naval forces were attacked with metal clubs and knives, as well as live fire, according to the Israeli army.
Officials with groups backing the flotilla denied such attacks, although the Israel Defense Forces released video evidence.
In addition to the activists who died in the rioting, tens of protesters were injured and evacuated to Israeli hospitals. Seven Israeli soldiers were reported injured; two listed in serious condition were upgraded later to moderate.
In his statement, Crowley said the incident underscored the need for assistance to reach Gazans, as well as the hindrance posed by Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the strip.
"We will continue to work closely with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with international NGOs and the U.N., to provide adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction materials, through the border crossings, while bearing in mind the Government of Israel’s legitimate security concerns," he said. "However, Hamas’ interference with international assistance shipments and work of nongovernmental organizations, and its use and endorsement of violence, complicates efforts in Gaza."
Crowley also implicitly rebuked freelance efforts to deliver assistance.
"Mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by governments and groups that wish to do so," he said. "These mechanisms should be used for the benefit of all those in Gaza."