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William Hague condemns Israel's "unacceptable" blockade of Gaza in wake of flotilla deaths

HAGUEisrael The Foreign Secretary William Hague has issued a statement in response to the tragic news that fifteen or more people have died on a ship reportedly attempting to deliver aid to the people of Gaza.

What the BBC is calling a "Gaza aid ship" is the property of IHH, an Islamic aid organization that is regarded as "extremist supporters of terror" by Israel. The ship was boarded in order to enforce Israel's ban on such ships accessing the Palestinian territory. Israel has understandably feared that such ships could be used to deliver arms to the terrorist government of Gaza, led by Hamas.

Israel says that its troops were attacked when they boarded the ship by knives and live ammunition. Five Israeli Navy commandos were injured; two seriously. Israel's Defence Minister said they returned fire in self-defence.

Mr Hague says that it is important to establish whether Israel did enough to prevent deaths but he also calls on Israel to end "unacceptable and counter-productive" restrictions on access to Gaza:

"I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza Flotilla. Our Embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli Government. We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved.  We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way, because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It will be important to establish the facts about this incident, and especially whether enough was done to prevent deaths and injuries.

This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza, in line with UNSCR 1860. The closure is unacceptable and counter-productive. There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis. I call on the Government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians."

In opposition Mr Hague adopted a more critical stance towards Israel and was attacked for doing so by leading British Jews.

Tim Montgomerie

3.15pm: The ugly truth about the aid agency that attempted to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.

3.15pm: The Israeli Navy gives the "aid ship" the opportunity to peacefully unload its humanitarian aid:

Charles Tannock 5pm: Charles Tannock MEP,  the foreign affairs spokesman for the Conservative MEPs and ECR Group in Brussels, has issued the following statement:

"This is yet another example of the tragedy of the continuing futile conflict between Hamas which controls the Gaza strip and its radical Islamist allies and the state of Israel. Although the convoy was carrying much needed humanitarian aid it would also appear its main purpose from the statements of the IHH organisers was not to deliver aid which can reach Gaza by land anyway but about provocatively breaking the maritime siege.

"I deeply regret any loss of life and in particular condemn the carrying of children by IHH on board the flotilla in the knowledge the pre-planned action could result in violent confrontation putting innocent lives at risk. However, I also call on the Israeli government to fully investigate the incident and hold any IDF forces shown to have used unjustified or excessive force to account and legal due process. I also call on Israel to ensure that unfettered humanitarian aid is continuing to reach the civilian population in Gaza."


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