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UN: Israeli blockade of Gaza legal but troops’ use of force excessive

A UN report on last year’s deadly Gaza flotilla raid has concluded that the blockade is legal but that the actions of the IDF were “excessive”. Turkey has reacted angrily – threatening to take the matter to the International Court of Justice.

 Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010 file photo of the Mavi Marmara.
Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010 file photo of the Mavi Marmara.
Image: Burhan Ozbilici/AP/Press Association Images

THE LONG-AWAITED United Nations report regarding an Israeli raid on a flotilla attempting to breach the blockade of Gaza has concluded that Israel’s naval blockade of the area is legal – but that the IDF used excessive force against activists.

Nine people, all Turkish nationals, were killed in May 2010 when Israeli troops stormed the Mavi Marmara – a vessel leading  a flotilla of six ships travelling towards the Gaza Strip.

The incident caused international outcry and brought relations between Turkey and Israel near to breaking point.

The UN’s Palmer Report, released today, has found that Israeli commandos were met with “organised and violent” resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the vessel, and needed to use force for their own protection. However, the reports also states that the level of force applied was “excessive” and that the loss of life was “unacceptable”.

The report states: “Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel”.

The subsequent treatment of other passengers by the Israeli military has been labelled abusive.

In a move that will no doubt prove contentious, the report deems Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip not to be in breach of international law. Israel has long maintained that the naval blockade is essential to prevent armaments being delivered to militants operating from the area, however the blockade has been condemned as a form of collective punishment by human rights groups, such as Amnesty International.

The conclusion also goes against previous statements on the issue by the United Nations, which indicated that the blockade was illegal.

Reaction

Both the Turkish and Israeli governments have disagreed with areas of the report.

Turkey has reacted angrily, expelling Israel’s ambassador and senior Israeli diplomats and suspending military agreements.

The country’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had threatened to impose a raft of measures against Israel if it the country failed to provide an apology for the Mavi Marmara deaths and end the blockade, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

The measures include Turkey downgrading diplomatic ties between the two states; putting all military agreements with Israel on hold; no longer recognising the Gaza blockade; and taking the issue to the International Court of Justice.

Davutoğlu says that, if the case goes to the ICJ, Turkey will support all flotilla victims – both Turkish and foreign.

Israel has also raised reservations about some findings contained in the report, particularly the call on Israel to make “an appropriate statement of regret”, and to pay compensation to the families of the dead and to those injured during the raid.

Israel welcomed the statement that the blockade was legal, however, as well as the questions raised concerning the motives of the Turkish-based IHH – one of the chief sponsors of the flotilla. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously claimed that a links existed between the IHH and Islamist groups – an allegation that the IHH has strenuously denied.

The team that complied the report consisted of Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Chair), President Alvaro Uribe (Vice-Chair), Joseph Ciechanover Itzhar, and Süleyman Özdem Sanberk.

Read the full report: Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident>

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