Gaza flotilla deaths spur concerns, condemnation

Gaza flotilla deaths spur concerns, condemnation

The Vatican expressed “pain” and “great concern” at the deaths of activists on a convoy bringing aid to Gaza, while French leaders criticized the Israeli Navy’s use of force in turning back the flotilla.

Chief Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Monday that the raid by Israeli Navy commandos, in which dozens of protesters were killed or injured, was “a very painful thing, in particular for the useless loss of human lives.”

Lombardi said the Vatican was following the situation “with great attention and concern.” He said the Vatican was against the use of violence “from whichever side it comes.”

Lombardi noted that Pope Benedict XVI is set to visit Cyprus June 4-6, and that the visit will go forward as planned. On that trip, he said, the pontiff “will not fail to firmly reiterate a message of peace.”

Meanwhile, French leaders criticized the Israeli Navy’s use of force against the Gaza flotilla.

“I am profoundly shocked by the tragic consequences” of the Israeli military’s actions, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement Monday.

“We don’t understand the human death toll, still provisional, against a humanitarian initiative of which we’ve known for several days,” he said. “Nothing can justify the use of such violence, which we condemn.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also scolded the Israeli military, “condemning” its “disproportionate use of force” in a statement.

“Light must be shed on the circumstances of this tragedy,” he said.

Israel’s ambassador to France was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for an explanation of what led to the killings.

Several French pro-Palestinian activists were on board the Gaza-bound flotilla involved in the rioting, said a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry. The spokesman could not comment on whether any of them were wounded or killed.

The French-based International Civil Campaign for the Protection of Palestinian People said eight French citizens took part in the flotilla, including its representative, Thomas George Sommer-Houdeville.

Protests organized by pro-Palestinian groups are scheduled for Monday evening in front of the Israeli Embassy in Paris and elsewhere in Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier.