WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON (AP) — A 19-year-old man with dual U.S.-Turkish citizenship was among the nine people killed in the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla in the eastern Mediterranean, the State Department said Thursday. That potentially complicates the Obama administration's attempts to remain neutral in the crisis.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the victim was Furkan Dogan and that U.S. authorities in Turkey had met with Dogan's father to express condolences and to offer U.S. consular services. She added that two other American citizens had been injured — one in the raid and the other during a subsequent protest — and the U.S. was seeking information about all three from Israel.
"Protecting the welfare of American citizens is a fundamental repsponsibility of our government and one that we take very seriously," she told reporters. "We are in constant contact with the Israeli government attempting to obtain more information about our citizens."
A broader problem for the Obama administration is what to do about the Israeli blockade of Gaza that the flotilla was trying to break through. The administration supports Israel's view that measures must be taken to prevent, or at least minimize, the smuggling of weapons into Gaza that could be used to attack Israel.
But Clinton said in her remarks to reporters that the administration is searching for new answers.
"We are evaluating ways of expanding the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza while protecting Israel's legitimate security interests," she said. She cited no examples of alternatives to the blockade.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Dogan, who was born in Troy, N.Y., had died of "gunshot wounds" but he declined to confirm reports that he had been shot multiple times in the head. Crowley said U.S. consular officials had seen Dogan's body in a morgue in Israel before it was taken to Turkey but had not known he was a dual citizen at the time.
Dogan's father Ahmet told Turkey's state-run Anatolia News Agency that he had identified his son's body and that he had been shot through the forehead. Still, he said, the family was not sad because they believed Furkan had died with honor.
"I feel my son has been blessed with heaven," he said. "I am hoping to be a father worthy of my son."
Clinton said no decision had yet been made about how to handle Dogan's death but renewed calls for Israel to "conduct a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation that conforms to international standards and gets to all the facts surrounding this tragic event."
"We are open to different ways to assuring that it is a credible investigation, including urging appropriate international participation," she said.
Israel has thus far rebuffed calls for any international role in a probe of Monday's incident in which commandos boarded several ships heading to the blockaded Gaza Strip with humanitarian supplies. Israel says its forces encountered fierce resistance aboard one ship, resulting in the violence that claimed the nine lives.
Crowley said that over a period of weeks prior to Monday's commando raid, U.S. officials had advised Israeli officials to take a cautious approach to the aid flotilla. And he said officials from Israel and other countries have been contacted since Monday to advise restraint in any such confrontations in the future.
The U.S. has resisted widespread international calls to condemn Israel for the operation and has said it believes Israel is best positioned to lead an investigation.
But the death of an American citizen adds a new element because any time an American citizen is killed overseas, the U.S. government has the option to open its own investigation into the case.
"If we think a crime has been committed, then working with the host government we have the option of our own investigation," Crowley said. Asked if the FBI had gotten involved, he said: "''At this point, no."
In her comments, Clinton did not identify the two Americans who had been injured.
But the State Department has confirmed that one of them, Emily Henochowicz, 21, of Maryland, lost an eye after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister shot by an Israeli border policeman during a demonstration in Jerusalem against the raid. She remains in a hospital, Crowley said.