Merkel demands that Israel end Gaza blockade

Merkel demands that Israel end Gaza blockade

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday joined the international chorus of demands for Israel to end its four-year blockade of Gaza after at least nine activists were killed by Israeli troops boarding a flotilla trying to deliver humanitarian supplies, dpa reported.

Several left-wing members of the German Parliament were aboard one of the ships trying to reach Gaza. They were not injured, the German Foreign Ministry said. At least three other Germans had joined the international activists on board the six ships that were stopped by Israel.

In a telephone call after the Monday morning incident, Merkel said she had urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lift the blockade on "humanitarian grounds."

Israel placed the Gaza Strip under siege in 2006 after militants based in the enclave launched a cross-border raid on an Israeli army outpost and captured an Israeli soldier, who is still being held somewhere in the territory.

   The blockade was tightened in June 2007 when gunmen from the Islamist Hamas movement routed security officers loyal to the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas and seized control of the Strip.

Netanyahu said Monday that all Gaza aid must be screened for weapons, charging that Gaza had become a base for Hamas terrorists "backed by Iran, and from which they fire thousands of rockets into Israel."

Anti-Israel demonstrations were sparked across Europe, the Middle East and in New York and Washington. In France, there were violent clashes as individual demonstrators tried to get near to the Israeli embassy and threw stones, French police said. Police answered with tear gas and batons.

In Sweden, several thousand people demonstrated in Stockholm, Goeteborg and Malmo, demanding sanctions against Israel.

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