NZ adds to chorus of outrage at raid deaths

By Audrey Young

New Zealand joined governments worldwide to condemn the deaths of at least nine people during a maritime raid by Israeli soldiers, but it has not criticised Israel.

Israeli forces landed on a flotilla of boats headed towards the Gaza Strip on Monday, sparking violence in which pro-Palestinian civilians used bludgeons and soldiers fired guns.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said yesterday that while Israel would undoubtedly conduct its own investigation, "that is not going to suffice in these circumstances".

That goes further than the United States and Australia, which were among countries to call for Israel to conduct its own inquiry.

Mr McCully also called in Israeli Ambassador Shemi Tzur to express New Zealand's concern - only six weeks after he reopened the embassy.

"I left him in no doubt as to the gravity of our concerns," Mr McCully said.

But like the US and Australia, Mr McCully refrained from directly criticising Israel.

Instead, the statement said "the New Zealand Government condemns the violence and especially the loss of life in the incident in international waters off the coast of Gaza".

Mr McCully said New Zealand would wait for Security Council guidance on who should lead an inquiry after Turkey called for a United Nations-led probe. Last night the Security Council called for an impartial investigation - though left it open as to who should lead it - and it condemned the "acts" leading to the deaths, which leaves it open to condemnation of the activists as well as Israel.

Israel said the soldiers were responding to being attacked.

Mr Tzur said that Israel "expressed its regret for the loss of lives on board the ship which tried to violate the blockade on Gaza".

"There was no intention whatsoever to harm people. I want to stress that all casualties are the responsibility of the organisers of the flotilla."

He said the flotilla had been warned it would not be allowed to continue and while five of the six ships co-operated, one ship was violent.

"The Israeli aim was a preventive measure, not an aggressive one."

Under international law, Israel had the right to protect its citizens from Hamas attacks, he said.

"Consequently it has taken measures to defend itself, including the imposition of a maritime blockade to curb Hamas rearmament."

Nevertheless, protests were held against Israel in a number of countries including several Arab nations, Pakistan, Britain and Malaysia.

Labour leader Phil Goff said he wanted to see a strong stance by the Government.

"They have made a start. I don't think it is yet strong enough."

Green MP Keith Locke said the raid on the boat and subsequent deaths amounted to a war crime and that the Government should condemn that action as a "murderous assault".

- NZ Herald

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