It will be very difficult for Israel to justify its deadly raid on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, according to former army commander Carmel Vassallo.

"The attack is very difficult to justify because the ships were on the high seas and even if they intended to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza they did not pose a threat," Brig. Vassallo said.

The deadly attack yesterday prompted the UN Security Council to call for an international probe into the raid and for the immediate release of all civilians.

The ships carrying hundreds of international pro-Palestinian activists were in international waters when Israeli commandos boarded the vessels, killing nine people after they opened fire. Israel has insisted the commandos acted in self-defence after they were assaulted with clubs, knives and metal rods, a claim the activists heavily deny.

"One would have expected the activists to make some form of reaction since they were provoked into defending their ship," Brig. Vassallo said, insisting the military action was harder to justify because the ships carried humanitarian aid for besieged Gazans.

Israel's actions sparked international outrage with the EU calling for an independent inquiry to establish what really happened.

Speaking from Madrid at a meeting of European national parliamentarians and MEPs, Francis Zammit Dimech, chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the violence and reiterated the EU's call for a "thorough and independent" inquiry.

Foreign Affairs Minister Tonio Borg on Monday deplored the "disproportionate use of violence" and described the situation in Gaza as a source of "grave concern".

Israel has imposed an information blackout on the incident and civilian activists on board the ships have been taken to the southern port city of Ashdod for questioning.

The Israeli navy intercepted the flotilla of six ships in international waters at about 5 a.m. on Monday. The ships were on a mission to defy the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and deliver supplies to the Palestinians.

Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007 when Hamas Islamists took power in the enclave, home to 1.6 million Palestinians that borders the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt and Israel.

Egypt yesterday temporarily lifted border restrictions at the Rafah crossing into Gaza following the attack, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the Israeli raid a "bloody massacre" and warned Israel of irreparable consequences to their bilateral ties.

Four of the activists killed were Turkish nationals.

The French Prime Minister yesterday called on Israel to release French civilian nationals still held in detention.

Condemnation for Israel's actions also poured in from civil society with Moviment Graffitti accusing Israel of "illegal and senseless" actions. "Israel's attack on the aid convoy heading for Gaza continues to show its arrogance against anyone who disapproves of its unacceptable treatment of the people of Gaza," Graffitti said.

The Muslim community in Malta said the attack was evidence of Israel's disrespect for international law. "Through such atrocities, it is obvious Israel does not believe in peace. The massacre against a civilian convoy carrying medicine, food, construction materials, children's toys and wheelchairs for the disabled in Gaza shows how the Israeli army is using its might to kill the Palestinian people by depriving them from basic human needs," it said.

The Nationalist Party, the Labour Party and Alternattiva Demokratika also condemned the attack.

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