WASHINGTON — The Obama administration walked a fine line Tuesday in response to Israel's lethal raid on a flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza, calling on Israel to let more aid into the beleaguered territory but stopping short of condemning the U.S. ally for using deadly force.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton supported a U.N. Security Council statement that condemned the "acts" that cost the lives of nine pro-Palestinian activists off the Gaza coast. But U.S. officials did not say whether they blamed Israel or the activists for the bloodshed.
The U.N. statement also called for a prompt and credible investigation of the events Monday, in which Israel seized a number of vessels and took hundreds of activists — many of them Turkish — off the ships to Israel.
Deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff, suggested to reporters in New York that some of the activists may have sought to provoke the Israelis into a harsh response.
"This sort of incident when you have statements coming from some of the participants in the flotilla, suggesting that maybe it was not solely to provide humanitarian assistance, but it may have been intended to provoke — not that everyone on that flotilla had that intention — give pause," Wolff said.
In a jab at Israel, Clinton said the situation in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas and under an Israeli blockade, is "unsustainable and unacceptable."
Israel and the U.S. have said the blockade was intended to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the narrow strip for use against the Israelis, but it has deepened poverty among the 1.5 million Palestinians there.
In remarks to reporters at the State Department, Clinton did not call for an end to the blockade, but she pressed Israel to allow greater access for humanitarian relief supplies, "including reconstruction and building supplies."
She also said Israel's legitimate security needs must be taken into account and that the ultimate answer to the conflict is for Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks toward a final peace settlement.
Both Clinton and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the U.S. is open to international participation in an Israeli investigation of the incident.
Gibbs stood by the president's earlier statement expressing "deep regret" for the loss life in the attack. Palestinians, Arabs and Turkey have called for a stronger condemnation.
Gibbs says Israel's blockade of Gaza is meant to keep weapons, not aid, out of area. He said the incident highlights the need for a comprehensive peace plan.
Obama's spokesman said the raid does nothing to change the "trusted relationship" between the U.S. and Israel.
"We are greatly supportive of their security," Gibbs told reporters Tuesday. "That's not going to change."
Turkey, a U.S. ally and unofficial sponsor of the flotilla, has led criticism of the raid, calling it a "bloody massacre" and demanding that Washington condemn the raid.
Obama hasn't spoken with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the incident, Gibbs said, but probably will soon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled Tuesday's planned meeting with Obama at the White House so he could return to Israel to deal with the incident. Next week's meeting between Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will go on as scheduled, Gibbs said.
Abbas has denounced the raid as a "sinful massacre," but he signaled he would continue the indirect talks.