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A day after fatal raid, information scant on Gaza flotilla

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Video shows night raid on ship
  • NEW: Foreigners who have identified themselves to be flown back, police say
  • NEW: Turkey sends three planes to bring back 20 citizens wounded in raid
  • U.N. Security Council calls for prompt, impartial investigation into raid
  • Death toll in pre-dawn raid still unconfirmed

(CNN) -- A day after Israeli forces stormed a flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies in a fatal raid, independent information on what transpired remained scant Tuesday.

The death toll of nine killed came from the Israelis, who did not release the names of those who died.

The Free Gaza Movement, one of the groups that organized the convoy of ships, said the fatalities numbered higher, but did not offer an exact number.

The surviving passengers themselves were being held incommunicado by Israeli authorities.

Of the foreigners who were taken into custody, none have been placed under arrest, the Israeli police said Tuesday.

The foreigners who have identified themselves were being taken to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv to be flown back to their native countries, police said.

Those who have refused to identify themselves to Israeli immigration authorities have been transferred to a prison in Beer Sheva in southern Israel where they are being temporarily held as they undergo security checks, police said.

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A police spokesman said that the process involved in deporting these latter protesters is more complicated as it requires the involvement of foreign diplomats.

Early Tuesday morning, the U.N. Security Council said it regretted the loss of lives on the humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza and condemned the actions that led to the deaths.

"The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza," the council said in a statement. "The council in this context condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and expresses condolences to the families."

The 15 member-nations of the council requested the immediate release of the seized ships that made up the flotilla, as well as the civilians who were taken into custody following the raid.

And it called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent" investigation into the incident.

Q&A on Israel's Gaza blockade

The council began its emergency session Monday afternoon at the U.N. Headquarters in New York to discuss how to respond to the fatal raid. It continued into early Tuesday.

Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledged the statement was watered down, but that it was a unanimous stance by the council and put Israel on notice that the world was critical of its actions.

"The Security Council, usually when you adopt something, it is a compromise," Mansour said. "And I believe what was adopted can be interpreted and read perhaps more than one way."

Video: U.N. calls for flotilla probe
Video: Reaction to Israel's deadly raid
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  • Israel
  • Gaza
  • Turkey
  • Hamas
  • United Nations Security Council

Meanwhile, Turkey was dispatching three planes to bring back 20 citizens who were passengers aboard the ships and were wounded in the raid, said the Turkish Prime Minister's Web site.

Also Tuesday, protesters in several major cities planned to take to the streets in anger. Two such rallies were scheduled in New York and Chicago, Illinois.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a pre-scheduled meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Davutoglu has called the raid "murder conducted by a state." But the Obama administration response has been more tempered.

President Barack Obama expressed "deep regret" at the deaths and "also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible," the White House said Monday.

That did not impress Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, who called the U.S. response "sort of weak."

"Israel should not get away with this," Tan said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a scheduled meeting with Obama this week to return to Israel to manage the crisis.

The Freedom Flotilla was organized by the Free Gaza Movement, a Cyprus-based human rights group, and the pro-Palestinian Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH).

The flotilla of six ships -- three passenger and three cargo vessels -- left Cyprus on Sunday, carrying more than 10,000 tons of aid and 600 passengers from more than 20 countries, the Movement said. The activists said they wanted to raise awareness of "the illegal siege of Gaza" by Israel.

Israel instituted a blockade on Gaza in January 2006, when Hamas won democratic elections in the Palestinian territories. It tightened that blockade in June 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza, but allows about 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid into the territories each week, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.

Since then, Israel has controlled entry of all manner of goods into Gaza, including instant coffee, chocolate and construction materials. Israel has said the latter could be used by Hamas to build bunkers.

The country says the Gaza shoreline is closed to maritime traffic to stop the smuggling of arms into the territory.

The Turkish prime minister said Monday that the vessels in the flotilla were inspected before they left port in Turkey to make sure the cargo did not include weapons.

The Israeli government described the flotilla as a "provocation," and had said it would allow the aid on the flotilla through its normal channels: unload it at Ashdod port and transfer it to Gaza.

"The organizers' intent was violent, their method was violent and the results were unfortunately violent," said Danny Ayalon, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister.

Since the summer of 2008, five flotillas have gotten through the blockade to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza. Monday's flotilla was expected to be the largest such mission.

But in a pre-dawn raid Monday, Israeli soldiers rappelled onto the deck of the ships from a helicopter. The boarding of the ships took place in international waters more than 70 nautical miles (130 km) outside Israeli territorial waters, according to IHH.

While the activists in five of the ships peacefully surrendered, the Israel government said soldiers faced violent resistance as they boarded the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara. The soldiers opened fire in self-defense, Israel said. Seven soldiers were wounded, it said.

The Free Gaza Movement denies there was violent resistance to Israeli soldiers, saying the soldiers immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians.

The Israeli military released a video shot from above the ship that it said showed soldiers being attacked, though the distance from which it was shot precluded immediate confirmation.

Most of the passengers in the ships were Turkish, as were most of the fatalities.

As many as nine Americans may have been aboard the boats at the time of the attack -- including Edward Peck, a former U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, according to Jonathan Slevin, a spokesman for the activist group Free Palestine Movement.

The attack sparked protests in several countries; caused a diplomatic row between Israel and Turkey, its closest Muslim ally; and brought condemnation worldwide.

A number of nations recalled their ambassadors from Israel, while others called for a full investigation.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations took place in New York City; Paris, France; and Baghdad, Iraq.

Of the hundreds of activists who were detained aboard the ships after they were escorted to the Israeli port of Ashdod, 15 were sent to Beer Sheva Prison, according to a spokesman for the Israeli prison authority. Another 25 were slated for deportation and 50 others who refused to identify themselves were being held separately.

None was allowed to speak to the news media.