By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Service and News Agencies
Members of the United Nations Security Council on Monday urged Israel to lift its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, in an emergency session to discuss the deadly Israel Navy raid on a convoy of international activists sailing to the coastal territory.
Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said in his briefing to the UN's most powerful body that Monday's bloodshed would have been avoided if repeated calls on Israel to end the "counterproductive and unacceptable" blockade of Gaza had been heeded.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Palestinians and Arab nations used the forum of the emergency session called by Turkey to call for condemnation and an independent investigation into the incident which left at least nine international activists dead. Most members of the 15-nation body joined the call for an investigation.
blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza to be fully lifted.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the raid murder conducted by a state and demanded an immediate Israeli apology, an urgent inquiry, international legal action against the authorities and perpetrators responsible, and an end to the Gaza blockade.
Following a 90-minute open meeting, the council went into closed-door consultations. Diplomats said envoys were negotiating the text of a proposed statement by the council.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a full investigation and expressed shock at Israel's storming of the flotilla.
"It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation," he said at a press conference in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
The White House on Monday said it "deeply regretted" the loss of life and injuries sustained in the clashes after Israel Navy troops stormed a convoy of international activists bringing aid to the Gaza Strip, leaving nine of the passengers dead.
"The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy," said White House spokesman William Burton.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his imminent trip to Washington, where he had been invited to meet with President Barack Obama, in the wake of the incident.
France became the first European nation to respond to the early morning's events. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was "profoundly shocked".
Many of the activists aboard the protest ships were European nationals and analysts have predicted a harsh diplomatic response from the European Union and its member states.
Sweden summoned Israel's ambassador to explain the circumstances of the incident. Two Swedish citizens were on board the seized ship.
The European Union demanded an inquiry into the incident, with member nations voicing their own individual calls on the matter over the course of the day.
Germany, one of Israel's most loyal allies, expressed shock at the deadly interception and questioned whether the action by Israeli commandos was proportionate.
Two members of the Bundestag lower house of parliament were among five Germans on board the ships, the foreign ministry said.
"The German government is shocked by events in the international waters by Gaza," government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a regular news conference, adding the government was seeking further clarification about the incident.
"Every German government supports unconditionally Israel's right to self defense," said Wilhelm. But he added that Israeli actions should to correspond to what he described as the "basic principle" of proportionality.
"A first look does not speak in favor of this basic principle being adhered to," he said. Berlin would await further details before judging the incident, he added.
Italy also condemned the killing of civilians during Israel's storming of the aid flotilla as "very grave" and asked for an EU investigation to ascertain the facts.
"I deplore in the strongest terms the killing of civilians. This is certainly a grave act," said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
Referring to the European Commission, he said it was "indispensable that there be an inquest to ascertain the facts, which are still not clear."
He also said he had asked the Israeli ambassador for clarification and hoped that it would not hurt efforts on the part of Israel and Turkey to cooperate in the search for Middle East peace.
Britain said on Monday that it was in urgent contact with the Israeli government to establish the facts about the interception of the Gaza flotilla while it "deplored" the loss of life in the incident.
"We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way because of the risks involved," Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.
"But, at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations," he added.
Hague said Britain had asked Israel for more information and urgent access to any British nationals involved.
"It would be important to establish the facts about this incident and especially whether enough was done to prevent death and injuries," said Hague.