Israeli raid on aid ships rocks Greek relations

Greece's relations with Israel suffered a severe setback yesterday when Israeli commandos stormed six ships, two of which were Greek, carrying hundreds of activists and tons of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory of Gaza, leading to at least nine people being killed and about 20 others injured. There was no indication by last night that any of those killed were Greek. It is thought that 35 Greeks were among some 700 people on the six vessels, which were carrying about 100,000 tons of aid and other supplies, including building materials and wheelchairs. The raids on the ships were condemned by all the Greek parties. New Democracy called it «an unprovoked attack» that contravened international law. The Communist Party said that the incident was evidence of «the heightened imperialist aggressiveness, not only against the Palestinian people but all the peoples in the area.» The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) labeled Israel's actions «piracy» and «an international crime.» The Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) accused Israel of «becoming increasingly violent» and undermining its own cause. The government withdrew from a joint air force exercise with Israel, code-named Minoas 2010, which started in Crete last Tuesday and was due to end this Thursday. It also canceled a visit due to take place today by the Israeli air force chief. Israel's ambassador in Athens, Ali Yahya, was summoned by Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas to give explanations about the incident. «We cannot justify the use of violence of such force; we condemn it,» said Droutsas. The Boat for Gaza group issued a statement saying that one of the Greek ships, the Sfendoni, had been attacked alongside the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara. «There was an attack with live rounds... with helicopters and inflatable boats,» the Greek organization said in a statement. Another Greek ship, the Eleftheri Mesogeio, was also boarded. Most of the casualties were reported to be Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara passenger ferry, which was one of three ships provided by Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), a Turkish aid organization that is supported by Turkey's ruling AKP party but is banned in Israel, which accuses it of links to Hamas and al-Qaida. The other ships were organized by the Free Gaza Movement, an international coalition of activist groups. All the vessels were towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod.