HAIFA, Israel — Israeli warships attacked at least one of the six ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists and aid for blockaded Gaza, killing at least two and wounding an unknown number of people on board, an Arabic satellite service and a Turkish TV network reported early today.
The Israeli military denied its forces attacked the boats but said it would enforce the decision to keep them away from Gaza.
The al-Jazeera satellite channel reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla that Israeli navy forces fired at the ship and boarded it, wounding the captain. The Turkish NTV network also reported an Israeli takeover with gunfire, and at least two people were killed.
The al-Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, "Everybody shut up!"
A Turkish website showed video of pandemonium on one of the ships, with activists in orange life jackets running around as some tried to help an activist apparently unconscious on the deck. The site also showed video of an Israeli helicopter flying overhead and Israeli warships nearby.
The head of the Gaza Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the "brutal" Israeli attack. "We call on the secretary general of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, to shoulder his responsibilities to protect the safety of the solidarity groups who were on board these ships and to secure their way to Gaza," he said.
The flotilla of three cargo ships and three passenger ships is trying to draw attention to Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. The boats are carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials. The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that after a security check, permitted humanitarian aid confiscated from the boats will be transferred to Gaza through authorized channels. Israel, however, would not transfer items it has banned from Gaza under its blockade rules.
This is the ninth time the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008. Israel has let ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers in January 2009. The flotilla bound for Gaza is the largest to date.
Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists are on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor.