Israeli inquiry finds raid justified
An Israeli military inquiry found no wrongdoing or negligence in the navy's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, but said intelligence and operational mistakes led to the deaths of nine Turkish activists.
A civilian panel is conducting a separate inquiry into the May 31st raid that triggered an international outcry, strained Israel's relations with its once-close Muslim ally Turkey and forced the Jewish state to ease its land blockade on Gaza.
"The inquiry found that on the one hand there were no wrongdoings and no negligences in any fundamental areas during a complicated and complex operation," Giora Eiland, a retired Israeli general who headed the military inquiry said today.
"But on the other hand there were mistakes that were made in decisions, including some taken at relatively high levels, which meant that the result was not as had been initially anticipated," Mr Eiland told reporters at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, where he released his report into the incident.
Israel says its troops acted in self-defence in opening fire on passengers who attacked them with metal rods and knives.
It also says the interception was neccessary to enforce a naval blockade designed to prevent arms shipments from reaching Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
Mr Eiland said his inquiry found evidence that activists on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara opened fire on Israeli commandos.
"We found that there are at least four incidents in which the people who were on the ship shot at our soldiers, either by using the weapons that were stolen from the soldiers or a weapon that they had," he said.
"We do have evidence that there was at least one weapon on this ship before we arrived and there is good reason to believe that the first shooting that occurred was when our soldier, the second soldier that arrived on the deck from the very first helicopter was shot by somebody," he added.
Turkish organisers of the flotilla reject Israeli claims that activists opened fire first, with guns seized from Israeli commandos. They say activists seized guns but threw them overboard.
Some of the commandos, the Israeli military said at the time, were armed with paintball guns - but also carried pistols - in anticipation of only light resistance.
Mr Eiland said better intelligence on the activists' plan to attack Israeli commandos could have prevented the bloodshed.
The separate civilian panel is led by a former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel and includes two international observers. Its narrow mandate does not include an examination of the political decision-making process behind the launching of the raid, although Mr Turkel said it would call for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to testify.
Instead, it focuses on whether the naval blockade and the flotilla's interception conformed with international law. The panel will also investigate the actions taken by the convoy's organisers and participants.