UN inquiry calls Israel flotilla raid ‘excessive’
UNITED NATIONS — Israel used “excessive” deadly violence against a Turkish-led aid flotilla to Gaza, according to a UN mandated inquiry whose report was published Thursday by the New York Times.
But the report, which has not yet been officially released amid a dispute between Israel and Turkey, said the flotilla organizers had been reckless and that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal.
Eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish descent died in the May 31, 2010 raid when Israeli special forces in speed boats and dropped from helicopters raided the six vessels in international waters.
“Israel?s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable,” said the inquiry, led by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer.
The inquiry said forensic evidence showed that “most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range” and this has “not been adequately accounted for” by Israel.
It added, however, that the flotilla “acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade” set up around the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory by Israel.
The inquiry called for Israel to make “an appropriate statement of regret” for the raid and pay compensation to the families of the dead as well as to injured victims.
Turkey and Israel should resume full diplomatic relations “repairing their relationship in the interests of stability in the Middle East,” it added.
Israel has rejected Turkey’s demands for an apology. Israeli government officials have said compensation is possible, however.
Neither the Turkish nor Israeli governments reacted immediately to the publication of the report by the New York Times.
The official release has been delayed several times because of the failure of the former allies to agree a final version. A UN spokesman said, however, that the report was expected to be handed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in coming days.
The Mavi Marmara ferry led the flotilla in which about 700 people from 40 countries took part. All the dead were on the ferry.
According to the report, a Turkish commission said “there was indiscriminate shooting, including from the helicopters.”
The UN inquiry concluded, however, that Israeli forces “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection.”
But it added that the loss of life inflicted by Israeli forces on the Mavi Marmara was “unacceptable.” “No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths.”
Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel the day after the raid and has said that there can be no normalization of ties without an apology and an end to the Gaza blockade, which it insists is illegal.
The report did back Israel over its naval blockade. “We have made it clear that we consider that Israel was entitled to impose the naval blockade. It follows that Israel was also entitled to enforce it.”
It added: “The manner of its enforcement, however, raises serious issues of concern.
“The resort to boarding without warning or consent and the use of such substantial force treated the flotilla as if it represented an immediate military threat to Israel. That was far from being the case and is inconsistent with the nature of the vessels and their passengers.”
The report highlighted, however, that both countries had tried in the weeks before to stop the flotilla going to Gaza. It added, though, that “more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions.”
The Hamas movement called the inquiry report “unjust and unbalanced”.
Einat Wilf, an Israeli lawmaker and member of the Knesset foreign affairs commission, told AFP the report “clearly exonerates Israel on the main issues regarding the legality of the blockade, the legality of stopping incoming ships in international waters and the existence of violence, resistance to the Israeli soldiers.”