Turkey Mourns Dead as Controversy Rages; American Teenager Among Slain

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Turkey Mourns Dead as Controversy Rages; American Teenager Among Slain


Imams and mourners pray behind the Turkish flag-wrapped coffins of activists. One American citizen was among the dead. Hundreds of activists who were jailed and then released by Israel also arrived home to a hero's welcome, with Turkish crowds cheering their attempt to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. (Photo: REUTERS)

ISTANBUL - Funerals were being held in Istanbul
on Thursday for the nine pro-Palestinian activists - including a U.S.
citizen - who were killed during the Israeli raid on six aid ships
trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza.

of activists who were jailed and then released by Israel also arrived
home to a hero's welcome, with Turkish crowds cheering their attempt to
break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Thousands packed Istanbul's main Taksim Square in
the early morning hours before moving to Istanbul airport to welcome
home the activists expelled from Israel. They waved Turkish, Palestinian
and Hezbollah flags while chanting "God is Great!"

One large banner read "Murderous Israelis: Take
your hands off our ships" while others in the crowd held signs with
slogans like "From now on, nothing will be the same" and "Intifada is
everywhere - at land and at sea" - in reference to the Palestinian
uprising against Israeli occupation.

All of
the nine activists died from gunshot wounds - some from close range -
according to initial forensic examinations done in Turkey after the
bodies were returned, NTV television reported, citing unidentified
medical sources.

Born in New York

News reported that among the nine slain was Furkan Dogan, 19, who was
born in New York, returning to his family's homeland, Turkey, at the age
of two.

maintains that the commandos only used their pistols as a last resort
after they were attacked, and released a video showing soldiers in riot
gear descending from a helicopter into a crowd of men with sticks and
clubs and being beaten. Footage also showed an activist with a knife
stabbing a soldier.

However the Foreign
Press Association complained Thursday that the Israeli military had
seized journalists' videos and was selectively using footage to bolster
its claims that commandos opened fire only after being attacked.

The organization, which represents hundreds of
journalists in Israel and the Palestinian territories, demanded that the
military stop using the captured material without permission and
identify the source of the video already released. The material appeared
Wednesday on the army's YouTube site labeled as "captured."

The United Nations has called for an
international investigation to establish exactly what happened on
Monday, but Israel instead proposed Thursday an Israeli inquiry - with
the participation of outside observers.


Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman,
embraced a U.S. suggestion in an effort to calm a global furor over the
killing of the activists.

"I am in favor of
an investigation. We have enough high-level legal experts ... if they
want to take on observers from the outside, they can invite observers,"
Lieberman said on Israel Radio.

said Turkey "bore all the blame" and had sent a ship full of "hooligans
with knives and metal bars."

Another aid
ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, is heading toward Gaza, but Lieberman said
Israel would not allow its Gaza blockade to be breached. "No ship will
reach Gaza. The Rachel Corrie will not reach Gaza," he told Israel

Derek Graham, a crew member on board
the converted merchant ship, named after an American woman killed in
the Gaza Strip in 2003, told Reuters: "Everybody was very upset at what
happened. Everybody has been more determined than ever to continue on to

The ship has medical equipment,
school supplies and cement, a material Israel has banned from entering

"If they board us, we will be showing
that we are not aggressive people, we are sitting showing we have
nothing in our hands and will tell them where exactly crew are," Graham,
a member of the Free Gaza Movement, said.  When asked how confident he
was feeling he said: "I would imagine somewhere around 50/50".

Israel wants any
probe to focus on the legality and operational details of the commando
raid rather than on its four-year-old blockade of Gaza and the
humanitarian situation.

Israeli Finance
Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio: "There is a need for an
investigation to draw lessons," an apparent reference to the military
performance in the operation.

Israel was
stung by a U.N. inquiry into the three-week offensive it launched in the
Gaza Strip in December 2008 which found evidence that its forces
committed war crimes, allegations Israeli leaders denied.

The head of the controversial Turkish charity that
organized the flotilla of ships said activists had grabbed guns from 10
soldiers in self-defense.

"We told our
friends on board: 'We will die, become martyrs, but never let us be
shown... as the ones who used guns,'" said Bulent Yildirim, chairman of
the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief.

He said he saw the commandos firing rubber
bullets from close range before switching to live ammunition, after some
of the activists attacked them with chairs and bats.

"Our friends only performed civil resistance. Even
if we had used the guns that would be still a legitimate self defense,"
Yildirim said.

Several of those released
by Israel accused the Israeli army of destroying evidence, and Yildirim
said soldiers shot a doctor who wanted to surrender and threw bodies
into the sea.

Kevin Ovenden of Britain said
a man who had pointed a camera at the soldiers was shot dead through
the forehead.

Other activists involved in
the flotilla also insisted their purpose was entirely peaceful.

"However much the Israelis are screaming that they
have found weapons, it is just nonsense," said best-selling Swedish
crime novelist Henning Mankell, who was traveling on the Swedish-Greek
ship Sofia in the Gaza convoy.

"On the ship
where I was, they found one weapon and that was my safety razor, and
they actually came forward and showed that, then you understand at which
level this was," Mankell told Swedish radio.

However Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
said the aim of the flotilla had been to break the blockade, not to
bring aid to Gaza. If the blockade ended, he warned, hundreds of ships
would bring in thousands of missiles from Iran, to be aimed at Israel
and beyond.

"This was not the 'Love Boat,'"
Netanyahu said in an address to the nation. "It was a hate boat."

Reuters and The
Associated Press contributed to this story.

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