Flotilla Raid Underscores Urgency of Peace Talks

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla Monday that resulted in nine deaths and numerous injuries prompted Washington to underline the urgency of advancing peace talks in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a visit with President Obama on Tuesday so he could return to Israel to address the crisis.

     Netanyahu and Obama spoke on the phone Monday and agreed to reschedule the meeting, in which Obama hoped to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Obama is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington next week.
     In a statement Monday, the White House expressed “deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals.” The White House also said it wants to learn “all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible.”
     The State Department echoed the call for inquiry. “We are working to ascertain the facts, and expect that the Israeli government will conduct a full and credible investigation,” the department said in a statement.
     The six ships raided early Monday were carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, along with food and supplies, to the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded since 2007.
     The State Department expressed concern for civilians in Gaza and said it will “continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs.”
     The agency also said it will work with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, along with worldwide non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, to ensure access to relief supplies “while bearing in mind the Government of Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”
      The State Department said the interference with aid shipments and the endorsement of violence by the Islamic extremist group Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip, “complicates efforts in Gaza.”
     At a press conference in Uganda on Monday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence aboard the aid ships.
     “Israel must provide a full explanation of this,” Ban said.
     He refused to personally define the incident as an act of aggression, saying such labeling was a joint-state matter. He said he instructed two U.N. officials to urge restraint in the region and ensure “that no further harm is done.”
     The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, condemned the raid on Tuesday, expressed “deep regrets for the tragedy” and called for an “immediate inquiry by Israel.”

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