Israel's deadly attack on a convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza is "a crime," said a large network of church-based relief organizations.
"This incident could easily have been avoided. This aggression has been heavily criticized and condemned by the worldwide members of ACT Alliance," said John Nduna, general secretary of Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance.
ACT is an alliance of 100 humanitarian and development organizations working in 130 countries, including the Gaza Strip.
Israeli troops on Monday raided a convoy of ships carrying hundreds of activists in international waters. The confrontation resulted in the death of at least nine pro-Palestinian activists.
The incident sparked a firestorm of criticism against Israel for its hard-handed handling of an aid flotilla. Many of the hundreds of passengers were citizens of Turkey, a Muslim country with close ties to Israel. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel on Monday and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the raid as a "bloody massacre by Israel."
Moreover, the European Union has called for a formal inquiry of Israel's action and the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session on Monday. The council on Tuesday called for an investigation into the raid and denounced the acts that resulted in bloodshed.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Canada on Monday and canceled a meeting with President Obama on Tuesday to fly home to handle the flotilla crisis.
For its part, Israel defended its military action by claiming that its troops fired in self-defense. Seven Israeli personnel were wounded in the conflict aboard the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. Israel has released a video of the early part of the raid to support its claim.
It also said that it repeatedly ordered the Freedom Flotilla to abort its mission to Gaza, where the Islamic terrorist group Hamas rules. When the ships refused to abandon their mission, Israeli troops boarded the Mavi Marmara where gunfire later broke out.
Israel said it has detained about 600 activists in a prison located in the southern part of the country. Another 45 people who have identified themselves were deported. Among the 45 activists are citizens of Western countries, including France, Germany, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The United States, which under the Obama administration has had a tense relationship with Israel, has been measured in its response. Washington has not publicly condemned Israel for the attack, but rather expressed regret for the loss of lives and said it is waiting for more information.
As a result of the incident, the international community has become more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians and is looking more carefully at the Israel-imposed blockade on Gaza. There is growing international pressure for Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza and allow more humanitarian aid to reach the 1.5 million people trapped inside the small strip of land.
Dr. Bernard Sabella, head of the ACT Forum in Jerusalem, has called on the international community to put pressure on Israel to end the blockade on Gaza and occupation of Palestinian lands. Sabella called Israel's attack on the aid convoy "a crime by any standard."
"This incident is yet another in a series of infractions that place Israel in a separate category of a state incapable of being responsible and restrained when dealing with peace activists on a humanitarian mission," Sabella said.
ACT Alliance works with members and partners in Gaza to provide health care, food distribution and psychosocial activities for Palestinians. The alliance reports that Israeli forces last year bombed one hospital and three clinics that it operates.