Gaza aid flotilla raid 'was legal'


The Israeli inquiry into a naval commando raid on an aid boat headed for the Gaza Strip that left nine Turkish nationals dead said today Israel acted legally in establishing its sea blockade and taking over the ship.

“The Israeli armed forces' interception and capture of the Gaza flotilla vessels in international waters - seaward of the blockaded area - was in conformity with customary international law," said the report, which was released by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, who heads the committee.

Israel established the commission after the May 31st raid on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara caused international criticism and led Turkey, once its closest ally in the region, to suspend diplomatic and security co-operation. Israel also agreed to take part in a United Nations probe of the incident, which has yet to be published.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the shootings "barbaric" while Turkish president Abdullah Gul has demanded an apology over the incident. Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said on December 26th that Israel wouldn't apologise.

In September, the United Nations Human Rights Council said the raid constituted "grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law." Israelhas said that its soldiers issued numerous warnings to the ships of the six-vessel flotilla to change course.

Soldiers who boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara were attacked with knives and clubs and seven were wounded, including by gunfire after people on the ship grabbed Israeli firearms, Israeli officials said.

There was no violence on the other five ships.

"Overall, the Israeli military personnel acted professionally in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence," the report said.

The Turkish activists "lost the protection of their civilian status for such time as they directly participated in the hostilities," it said. Israel has said the blockade is legal as it prevents the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic Hamas movement.

Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the US, the European Union and Israel. Several boats have tried to breach the blockade since the May incident. All attempts were diverted peacefully.

International legal experts, such as Robin Churchill, a professor of international law at the University of Dundee in Scotland, have said that the blockade's legality turns on two issues: Whether Israel's conflict with Hamas is a full-fledged war and whether the military benefit is proportionate to the suffering it imposes on the civilian population.

"The naval blockade was imposed on the Gaza Strip lawfully, with Israel complying with the conditions for imposing it," the Israeli commission said.

"Israel is complying with the humanitarian obligations imposed on the blockading party under international law."

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas ousted forces loyal to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group and seized full control of the territory in 2007 after winning parliamentary elections the previous year.