UNSC condemns Israeli assault on aid ships, urges quick, neutral, credible probe in accordance with international standards

Erdogan warns Israel, says it must stop lying, avoid betting on Turkey’s patience

Europe wants to participate in world probe into attacks on flotilla, urges end to Gaza blockade

Egypt re-opens Rafah crossing as Washington refuses Gaza situation

UN Security Council members have condemned Israel's attack on a humanitarian flotilla for the Palestinians and urged Israel to end its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

In individual statements ahead of a possible official UN Security Council reaction, the 15 council members issued remarks on Monday, almost all condemning the Israeli assault in which at least nine people were killed.

'It is clearer than ever that Israel's restrictions on access to Gaza must be lifted in line with Security Council Resolution 1860. The current closure is unacceptable and counterproductive,' British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said ahead of the emergency session called after the deadly attack.

France, Russia and China - also veto-wielding permanent council members - also called for the blockade to be lifted and for an independent inquiry.

The United States, Israel's traditional ally which often uses its veto power to aid the Jewish state -- did not request specifically that Israel end its blockade on the Gaza Strip. But it hinted that the measure at least should be eased.

US deputy permanent representative Alejandro Wolff said Washington was 'deeply disturbed by recent violence and regrets tragic loss of life and injuries. We are working to ascertain the facts.

'We expect a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully,' Wolff said.

'Direct (aid) delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible under the circumstances,' Wolf added noting that the 'situation (was) unsustainable and is not in the interest of any of those concerned.

'We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods that are allowed into Gaza,' Wolff said.

Israel's UN envoy Daniel Carmon meanwhile insisted that the flotilla was not on an aid mission.

'Although portrayed in the media as a humanitarian mission delivering aid to Gaza, this flotilla was anything but a humanitarian mission,' Carmon said.

'What kind of humanitarian activists demand to bypass the United Nations, the Red Cross, and other internationally recognized agencies?

'What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and other weapons to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?'

China also condemned Israel's deadly raid, and urged a 'quick response' from the UN Security Council.

'We were shocked by the Israeli naval attack on the Turkish flotilla carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza which led to severe casualties and condemn it,' foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said late on Monday in a statement released in Beijing.

The Brazilian UN envoy Maria Luiza Ribeiro said the incident 'stresses the need for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted. It is a violation of international law,' she said.

For Wolf, the US diplomat, 'ultimately this incident underscores the need to move ahead quickly with negotiations that can lead to a comprehensive peace in the region.

'The only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement negotiated between the parties that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and fulfills the aspirations of both parties for independent homelands for two States.'

Israel is facing a wave of international condemnation over the raid, in which at least nine people were killed.

Yahya Mahmassani, representing the Arab group at the UN, said there were a number of issues that were important for Council members to address.

'We want a strong condemnation because this happened in international waters, two: we want to lift the blockade on Gaza, to allow all the food and material that was sent to Gaza to arrive and third: Israel should abide by international law and its commitment under international law,' he told AFP.

The talks were requested by Lebanon, which holds the council's rotating presidency until 0400 GMT on Tuesday (1400 AEST).

The country's Prime Minister Saad Hariri 'asked the Lebanese delegation at the UN to call for an emergency meeting over what happened today,' a Lebanese official told AFP earlier.

The Palestinian permanent representative to the world body, Riyad Mansour, said there was hope that 'at the end of the day... the Security Council will have a decisive outcome, a reaction to bring Israel into account at the same level of that crime that has been committed in the high seas.'

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said 'Israel's action is a grave breach of international law. In simpler terms, it's tantamount to banditry and piracy. It's murder conducted by a State.'

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Israel must be punished for its "bloody massacre" on aid ships bound for Gaza, urging international sanctions against the Jewish state's "lawlessness".

Monday's raid -- which left nine people dead, including at least four Turks -- plunged already deteriorating Turkish-Israeli ties into deep crisis as an infuriated Ankara recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv and scrapped joint war games.

"The insolent, irresponsible and impudent attack by Israel, which went against law and trampled human honor underfoot, must definitely be punished," Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), describing the raid as a "bloody massacre".

He urged the international community to hold Israel to account, calling the Jewish state "a festering boil in the Middle East that spreads hate and enmity, dynamites regional peace and spreads instability."

"It is no longer possible to cover up or ignore Israel's lawlessness. It is time for the international community to say 'enough is enough'," Erdogan said in an angry tirade interrupted by loud applause.

He raised doubt that Israel, "which uses lies as state policy and is not ashamed of its crime", would carry out an impartial inquiry into the raid.

"The international community must investigate the incident in all its aspects and deliver the appropriate legal response," he added.

Erdogan, speaking after a meeting with top military and intelligence officials, said he would raise these points with US President Barack Obama during a telephone conversation later Tuesday.

"Turkey will use all the tools of international law and diplomacy... Nobody should test Turkey's patience," he added. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the justice ministry was studying what legal steps could be taken against Israel over the operation that took place in international waters, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The raid saw Israeli commandos storm a flotilla of six vessels sailing towards Gaza in a bid to break the blockade of the impoverished enclave, in place since 2007, and deliver some 10,000 tons of supplies.

The deadly violence occurred on the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and Israel said nine people were killed.

A Turkish diplomat said four of the victims were Turks, adding that the number may rise as the identification process continued.

Around 45 activists, most of them Turks, were under treatment in various hospitals. Turkey on Tuesday sent three ambulance planes to bring home 20 wounded nationals.

Officials from Turkey's embassy in Israel told Anatolia that 19 Turks who were on board the flotilla had been repatriated so far, while at least 368 others remained in detention.

Israeli officials blamed the activists on board for the violence, saying troops had only responded with force after being attacked with knives, clubs and even live fire, a charge denied by Turkey.

Angry demonstrations continued across Turkey for a second day Tuesday as protesters gathered outside the Israeli ambassador's residence in Ankara and several civic bodies laid black wreaths at the Israeli consulate in Istanbul.

Muslim-majority Turkey has been a close ally of Israel since the two countries signed a military cooperation deal in 1996 but relations have taken a sharp downturn since Israel launched its devastating war on Gaza in late 2008, which Turkey has vehemently criticized.

Last year Erdogan stormed out of a debate at the World Economic Forum, accusing the Jewish state of "barbarian" acts in Gaza.

Relations were further strained in January after Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon gave Turkey's ambassador a public dressing down to protest against a Turkish television series for showing Israel in a bad light.

On the other hand, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday ordered the opening of the Rafah border crossing to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, the official MENA agency reported.

The order came a day after a deadly raid by Israeli commandos on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007.

"President Mubarak has given orders to open the Rafah border crossing to allow humanitarian and medical aid into the Gaza Strip, as well as to receive medical cases which require access to Egyptian territory," MENA said.

"This comes as part of Egypt's moves to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip." According to Egyptian security sources in Rafah, the border opened on Tuesday at 1.30 pm (1030 GMT). No date has been set for it to close again.

The Rafah border is Gaza's only crossing that bypasses Israel. Egypt has kept it largely closed, opening it for humanitarian cases on two days a week.

A 2005 agreement brokered by the United States put the Palestinian Authority and Israel in charge of the border, with observation from the European Union.

A Hamas official told AFP the Islamist movement "reiterates its demand that the Arab League work for an immediate and complete end to the siege on Gaza."

Egypt has come under harsh regional criticism for keeping the border closed and for building an underground wall in a bid to curb smuggling, which it views as a security risk.

According to MENA, extra work teams have been put in place at the Rafah border to speed up the implementation of Mubarak's decision.

The opening of the border "will allow those coming from abroad and the sick who have finished their treatment and students studying abroad to return to the Gaza Strip."

"Those stranded in Gaza who have residency abroad or foreign passports, students studying abroad and sick who need treatment abroad will be allowed to leave the Strip via Egypt," MENA said.

It said any medication or medical goods will be allowed into Gaza and that humanitarian aid and food will also be let in but in coordination with the Egyptian Red Crescent.

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006 further tightening it the following year after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

In December 2008, Israel launched a massive offensive in a bid to halt rocket and mortar fire by Gaza-based militants. About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the 22-day conflict.

Since 2007, Gaza's 1.5 million people have relied on a web of tunnels beneath the Rafah border for most of their needs. The World Bank estimates that 80 percent of Gaza's imports are brought in through the tunnels.

Most of the tunnels are used to bring in basic goods such as food, household appliances, building materials and livestock, but Hamas and other armed groups use their own more secret tunnels to smuggle in weapons and money.

The move to open the border came after Israeli commandos stormed an aid flotilla bound for Gaza on Monday, killing at least nine pro-Palestinian activists and sparking an international outcry.

The six ships were carrying some 10,000 tons of supplies.