ASHDOD, Israel May 31, 2010 — -- When Israeli commandos rappelled onto a flotilla of aid ships that were trying to break its Gaza embargo, they descended into a battle zone that left nine people dead and 30 injured, including several Israeli soldiers.
The violent confrontation also triggered a diplomatic firestorm and angry protests erupted in a dozen countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Canada on his way to a White House meeting on Tuesday, canceled the meeting with President Obama. The two leaders later spoke briefly by phone and Obama said he "deeply regrets" the loss of life.
Netanyahu defended the use of force saying, "Our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed."
The flotilla of six ships loaded with 600 protesters and tons of humanitarian supplies was organized by the Free Gaza Movement, an international coalition of pro-Palestinian activists, and a Turkish charity. Many of the passengers aboard the ships were Turkish.
There are conflicting reports about what happened during Israeli raid.
The Israeli navy confronted the convoy of ships in darkness, warning them to turn back. The ships refused. Communication between the ships and their families at home was cut off. Speedboats raced alongside and naval commandos dropped from helicopters.
An Al Jazeera correspondent, Jamad Al Shaid, on board the Mavi Mamara ship, reported that the Israelis fired at the vessel before boarding it.
"Tens of people have been injured, two killed, on board this ship which carries 600 activists, parliamentarians, women and children, and the elderly. All of them whom are civilians," the reporter said.