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UN Security Council Members Demand Israel End Blockade

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Monday on Israel's deadly commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, with the Palestinians and Arab nations demanding condemnation and an independent investigation.

The Palestinians and Arabs, backed by a number of council members including Turkey, also called for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, immediately release the ships and humanitarian activists, and allow them to deliver their goods.

Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said in his briefing to the U.N.'s most powerful body that the early morning bloodshed on Monday would have been avoided "if repeated calls on Israel to end the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza had been heeded,"

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country had been a longtime Muslim ally of Israel, called the raid "banditry and piracy" on the high seas and "murder conducted by a state." He urged the council to adopt a presidential statement circulated by Turkey. Many of the activists aboard the ships were apparently Turks.

The original draft text, obtained by the Associated Press, would have the council condemn the attack by Israeli forces "in the strongest terms" as a violation of international law, express deep regret at the loss of life and call for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to undertake "an independent international investigation ... to determine how this bloodshed took place and to ensure that those responsible be held accountable" and consider the issue of compensation.

The draft also calls on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and immediately release the ships and civilians it is holding.

Ban condemned the violence.

"I am shocked by reports of killings," he said in a statement. "It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place."

After statements from the 15 council members as well as Israel and the Palestinians, the council moved into closed consultations to consider possible action. The consultations then broke into a smaller group including the U.S., Turkey and Lebanon, which holds the council presidency.

Council members decided to take a brief dinner break nearly seven hours after their meeting began and then resume discussions on the latest draft which calls for "a prompt, independent, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards."

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said he expected further changes to the text. Several diplomats noted that the United States, Israel's closest ally, was waiting for instructions from Washington.

Mansour called the attack on unarmed civilians on board foreign ships in international waters a "war crime," and he declared that "those fleets, one after the other, will be coming until the unethical blockade is put to an end and the suffering stops for our people."

France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud also called for an "independent, credible" investigation that meets international standards, and the lifting of the Gaza blockade.

But U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff, made no mention of an international probe, saying: "We expect a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully."

While the Palestinians and Turks insisted that those on the ships were humanitarian and human rights activists, Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador Daniel Carmon said "this flotilla was anything but a humanitarian mission."

Some activists have "terrorist history" and its organizers support radical Islamic networks such as Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel's existence, he said.

Carmon defended the legality of Israel's blockade and the boarding of the ships - which refused repeated calls to send their cargo through Israel - as "a preventive measure" to counter the illegal attempt to break the blockade.

He called the results "tragic and unfortunate."

Wolff said the United States "is deeply disturbed by the recent violence and regrets the tragic loss of life," considers the situation in Gaza "untenable" and will continue to urge Israel to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into the territory to meet humanitarian needs.

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Filed by Jeff Muskus