Bloomberg News

Israel ‘Excessive’ in ‘Legal’ Block of Gaza Flotilla, UN Says

September 02, 2011

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Israel’s effort last year to stop a flotilla of ships from reaching the Gaza Strip was legal, though the way it was carried out was “excessive and unreasonable,” the United Nations said in a report.

“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,” according to the 105-page report obtained by the New York Times and posted on its website. The UN said Israel’s naval blockade was legal, so “it follows that Israel was also entitled to enforce it.”

The Israeli raid on May 31, 2010, on vessels attempting to breach the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip left nine Turkish citizens dead, generated international criticism and prompted Turkey to suspend diplomatic and security cooperation. Turkey was once Israel’s closest ally in the region.

The release of the report, which has been held back, may do little to heal relations between nations. Turkey’s position is that both the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza and the attack on the aid flotilla were unlawful.

Both countries were rebuked in the investigation.

“Although people are entitled to express their political views, the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade,” the UN said in the report. “The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers.”

Israel’s Account

Israel has said that in the confrontation, which followed numerous warnings for the ships to change course, its soldiers were attacked with knives and clubs after boarding the Mavi Marmara, one of six vessels in the flotilla, and seven were wounded, including by gunfire after volunteers aboard the ship managed to grab Israeli firearms.

The report cited forensic evidence indicating that the dead were shot “multiple times,” including in the back or at close range. The findings also said Israeli soldiers faced “significant, organized and violent resistance” from a group of passengers on the vessel.

“The panel considers it important that an appropriate statement of regret be made by Israel in respect of the incident in light of its consequence,” the UN said. “Israel should offer payment for the benefit of the deceased and injured victims and their families.”

Turkey Demands Apology

That will probably frustrate Turkey, which demanded an apology. Expressions of regret would fall short of Israel taking responsibility for the deaths.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday that Turkey’s position is clear and won’t change until Israel apologizes, pays compensation and takes steps including the lifting of the blockade, according to state-run Anatolia news agency. Davutoglu will comment on the report’s findings and Turkey’s relationship with Israel today at 11 a.m. in Ankara.

“Turkey didn’t expect an Israeli apology before the report, and the fact that it said IDF response was excessive will make the government feel even more comfortable in challenging Israel on the Palestinian issue in all international forums,” Kaan Nazli, director of emerging markets at Medley Global Advisors in New York, said in an e-mail.

An Israeli official, speaking anonymously by phone because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the record, said the UN report clearly vindicates the Israeli position on the legality of the naval blockade and its enforcement. The official didn’t address parts of the report critical of Israeli action.

Legal Blockade

Israel has said the blockade is legal as it prevents the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas movement. Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel. Several boats have tried to breach the blockade since the May incident. All attempts were diverted peacefully.

Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and its leaders say they will renounce violence when Israel withdraws from territory occupied in 1967 and allows Palestinians to return to areas in Israel from which they fled in 1948.

--With assistance from Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem. Editors: Terry Atlas, Jim Rubin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in New York at fjackson@bloomberg.net; Emre Peker in Istanbul at epeker2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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