“We want a clarification over what has happened,” Carl Bildt said to Sveriges Radio P1 over the reports that the ships belonging to the “Ship to Gaza” convoy, carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip, had been boarded by Israeli military forces.
“We know that there are Swedes on some of the ships and we want to know what has happened to them. There appears no reason to question media reports that a Turkish vessel has been boarded, that a fire fight occurred and that people have been killed,” Bildt said.
The flotilla of ships, carrying a reported 600 people from around 50 different nations, left Cyprus on Sunday evening and was due to arrive close to Gaza on Monday morning. The convoy, loaded with 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, was intercepted in international waters, 65 kilometres off the Gaza coast, by Israeli warships and helicopters.
A live feed broadcast from a Turkish registered ship in the convoy shows Israeli forces boarding the ship and opening fire at around 8pm. Israeli military sources have confirmed ten dead, but other reports indicate that the death toll could be as high as nineteen, with dozens more injured.
Eleven Swedes are participating in the aid convoy including the author Henning Mankell, theologian Ulf Carmesund, Jewish artist and musician Dror Feiler and Swedish Green Party MP Mehmet Kaplan.
Swedish Green Party leader Peter Eriksson said that they had lost contact with Kaplan at around 5pm expressed concern over his fate in what he described as a completely legitimate and reasonable non-violent protest.
“If Israel has used extensive violence and killed people then it has to be seen as very serious. And it is important that there are strong reactions from both Sweden and other countries,” Eriksson told news agency TT
The convoy was organised by activists from a slew of countries to protest the continued isolation of Gaza and to help arrest a deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Mikael Löfgren at Ship to Gaza Sweden has confirmed that all the ships in the flotilla have been boarded, including the Swedish ship Sofia.
“We received a call from Dror Feiler, who was on board our boat Sofia, at 4.30am in the morning, and then he heard shots from the ships that were being boarded,” he told the TT news agency on Monday adding that the Sofia was boarded 15 minutes later.
Löfgren told the Local on Thursday that the activists were aware of the Israeli government’s warnings, and stressed that the project is a peaceful non-violent operation.
“We will not meet violence, with violence,” Löfgren said on Thursday.
Israeli military sources however claimed on Monday that their forces were fired upon and that four soldiers were wounded while boarding the Turkish vessel. The report contradicts several recent statements from flotilla organizers who have insisted that none of the six vessels were carrying any weapons.
Israel imposed an economic blockade after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in June 2007.
Israel claims that despite the blockade 15,000 tones of humanitarian aid are allowed into Gaza every week, which according to the United Nations is less than a quarter of what is needed.
As the flotilla began its highly publicised voyage towards the Gaza, and before Monday’s attacks, the Israeli government has said that it would forward the humanitarian aid supplies on the ships once they had cleared customs.