JERUSALEM — Israel's prime minister claimed Sunday that the Turkish activists who battled Israeli naval commandos in a deadly clash last week prepared for the fight ahead of time, before boarding the ship in a different city from the rest of the passengers.
Benjamin Netanyahu's charges highlight Israel's frantic efforts to portray the activists as terrorists and counter a wave of harsh international condemnation that has left the Jewish state isolated and at odds with some of its closest allies.
The May 31 operation, in which nine activists were killed aboard a ship headed to the blockaded Gaza Strip, damaged Israel's ties with Turkey — its main Muslim ally — and brought heavy pressure on Israel to lift the three-year blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Sunday, Netanyahu's office released a statement saying he discussed the international criticism with world leaders. He rejected a proposal by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon for an international investigation of the raid.
Videos released by the military have shown a crowd of men attacking naval commandos as they landed on a ship from a helicopter.
On Sunday, the Turkish daily Hurriyet showed new pictures taken by unidentified people of wounded Israeli commandos. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said they affirm Israel's version of events.
The fighting took place on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and the dead included eight Turks and a Turkish-American man. The ship was organized by the IHH, a Turkish Islamic charity that Israel has outlawed because of alleged ties to Hamas. The group is not on the U.S. State Department list of terror organizations. IHH says the photos show activists "intervening" or "tending" to the injured soldiers.
In Turkey, IHH head Bulent Yildirim said all passengers boarded the ship in the Turkish port of Antalya, and rejected suggestions those who clashed with the soldiers were trained militants.