Around 10,000 Turks are marching from Israel’s Consulate in Istanbul toward the city’s main square, shouting slogans denouncing Israel after 10 pro-Palestinian activists were reported killed and dozens wounded by Israeli forces.
The protesters earlier Monday tried storm the Consulate building but were blocked by police. They later set Israeli flags on fire. Turkish television stations are broadcasting the protest live.
The operation in international waters off the Gaza coast was a nightmare scenario for Israel that looked certain to further damage its international standing, strain already tense relations with Turkey and draw unwanted attention to Gaza’s plight. The two sides offered conflicting accounts of what happened.
A reporter on one of the boats said the Israelis fired at the vessel before boarding it, and the Israelis said they only opened fire after being attacked by activists with sticks, knives and live fire.
Israeli security forces were on alert across the country.
The activists were headed to Gaza on a mission meant to draw attention to a 3-year-old Israeli blockade of the coastal territory. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas militants took power there.
“It’s disgusting that they have come on board and attacked civilians. We are civilians,” said Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla.
Speaking from the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus, she said she had lost contact with the flotilla at about 3:30 a.m. (0030 GMT).
Israel had declared it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza and had offered to transfer the aid to Gaza from an Israeli port. Israeli naval commandos raided the ships while they were in international waters after ordering them to stop about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from Gaza’s coast, according to a pro-Palestinian activist in Greece involved in the aid mission.
A Turkish website showed video of pandemonium on board 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.
Turkey’s NTV showed activists beating one Israeli soldier with sticks as he rappelled from a helicopter onto one of the boats.
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.
“These savages are killing people here, please help,” a Turkish television reporter said.