WASHINGTON — The U.S., hoping to avert an armed clash between two close allies, Israel and Turkey, and the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Tuesday urged caution on the international community as it endorsed a U.N. condemnation of acts that led to the deaths of nine international activists on an aid flotilla that was attempting to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
Israeli commandos rappelling from helicopters boarded the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish passenger vessel leading the aid flotilla in international waters early Monday and were assaulted by some of the passengers. In the melee, at least nine passengers were shot to death and dozens were injured, and Israel is now holding the ships in the port of Ashdod along with some 700 passengers.
The crisis, which threatens to escalate, has the U.S. caught between two longtime allies: Israel, its closest partner in the Middle East, and Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance and a Muslim democracy that has largely supported U.S. goals since the Cold War.
The U.S. is one of the few major powers that haven't condemned Israel's attack on the flotilla. The White House issued a statement offering "deep regrets for the loss of life and injuries sustained," but urged patience and said it was "working to understand the circumstances" of the Israeli raid.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met for more than two hours Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who publicly suggested that the Obama administration's response to the Israeli raid on the flotilla, which set sail from Turkey, has been too weak.
After the meeting, Clinton emphasized that the U.S. supports an Israeli investigation into the debacle rather than an outside international probe.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs read reporters the text of the Security Council resolution, which avoided blaming Israel directly and called for an investigation to determine who was responsible for killing the activists.
Turkey called Israel's action "inhuman state terror" and warned that it may send warships with the next aid flotilla headed to Gaza. Israel responded that it had the right under international law to assault those trying to break an announced blockade, even on the high seas.
Britain and France called on Israel to lift its "unacceptable" blockade of Gaza, where the militant Islamist group Hamas seized power in 2007 after winning more than half the seats in Palestinian parliamentary elections.