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World leaders demand probe into Israel raid

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BRUSSELS – Global leaders demanded an independent probe Tuesday into Israel’s deadly commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla and the release of their seized citizens, as tens of thousands protested worldwide.

Egyptian riot police stand guard as opposition activists wave the Palestinian flag as they demonstrate …

A day after the pre-dawn assault in international waters which left at least nine pro-Palestinian activists dead, nations condemned Israel for what Turkey’s prime minister branded “a bloody massacre.”

In New York, an emergency session of the UN Security Council called for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation.”

The world body and NATO demanded the immediate release of all six vessels and the hundreds of Palestinian supporters who were on board.

Turkey said at least four of its citizens were among the dead and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel should be “punished.”

“The insolent, irresponsible and impudent attack by Israel, which went against law and trampled human honour underfoot, must definitely be punished,” he said.

Turkey, once Israel’s main partner in the region, has scrapped joint war games and recalled its ambassador.

Britain, France, Russia and China — four of the five veto-wielding Security Council members — urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Even the United States, traditionally Israel’s strongest ally, hinted that the blockade — in place since 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory — should at least be eased.

The outrage that greeted the raid prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call off a visit to Washington and talks with US President Barack Obama.

The White House voiced “deep regret” at the loss of life but stopped short of specifically condemning Israel. But it made it clear that it trusted Israel to carry out a full and credible investigation.

Nations including France and Ireland called for the immediate release of their citizens who were seized in international waters, taken back to Israel and in some cases held incommunicado and denied consular access.

“Israel needs to listen to and act in accordance with the united voice of the international community on this issue,” said Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said later that all detained foreign activists would be deported.

“All foreign nationals who were on board the fleet and were arrested will be deported from Tuesday night,” the premier’s office said a statement. Dozens had already deported during the course of the day.

Delegates from the European Union and NATO gathered in Brussels for talks, after EU ambassadors criticised Israel’s use of force and demanded an immediate and impartial inquiry.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev slammed the loss of life as “absolutely unjustified,” while EU president Herman Van Rompuy said the deaths were “inexplicable,” and the bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton vowed to intensify European efforts to get Israel to lift its Gaza blockade.

China said it was “shocked” by Israel’s actions and was prepared to back a quick response from the UN Security Council.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for Israel to “urgently” explain itself.

“Had Israelis heeded to my call and to the call of the international community by lifting the blockade of Gaza, this tragic incident would not have happened,” the UN secretary general said.

Across the world, tens of thousands of people protested on the streets and several countries summoned Israel’s ambassadors. Many demonstrators chanted “Death to Israel!”

Cuba denounced the “criminal attack,” Venezuela’s firebrand President Hugo Chavez condemned what he said was a “brutal massacre,” and the World Council of Churches said Israel had brazenly flouted international law.

Israel had warned that it would intercept the ships, but Monday’s assault turned into a fiasco. Footage from one vessel showed black-clad commandos clashing with activists and several wounded people lying on the deck.

The Red Cross on Tuesday said it had been granted access to dozens of detained activists, and was in the process of contacting their families.

“Our priority now is to check on the condition and whereabouts of the people wounded and of those detained by the Israeli authorities,” said Pierre Wettach, head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in a statement.

The Israeli military has blamed activists on the ship for creating the confrontation by attacking its soldiers as they boarded.

The Muslim world united in condemning what Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called a “massacre” and Arab League chief Amr Mussa said was a “crime.”

The Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza urged world Muslims to “rise up” in protest, as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced the raid as “inhuman Zionist regime action.”

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak condemned the “excessive and unjustified force” while Jordan, the only other regional power to have a peace treaty with Israel, handed in a protest note.