Monday, January 24, 2011
ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires
Israeli commandos killed two passengers on an aid ship headed for the Gaza Strip before they boarded the vessel, a Turkish report into May’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara has claimed.
The release of the Turkish report Sunday came as an Israeli panel cleared the Israeli military and government of any wrongdoing during the incident.
Eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent were killed in the May 31 attack as the Turkish Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla of six, attempted to run the blockade on the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid. Israel claims its soldiers acted in self defense; the activists on board the ship say the commandos used disproportionate force.
According to the Anatolia news agency, the interim report was submitted to the United Nations on Sept. 1 for use in its ongoing investigation into the raid.
The Turkish report, released Sunday to the public, accuses Israeli forces of mounting a “full-fledged and pre-meditated attack with frigates, helicopters, zodiacs and submarines, [and being] heavily armed with machine guns, laser-guided rifles, pistols and modified paintball rifles.”
It accuses Israeli soldiers of shooting “from the helicopter onto the Mavi Marmara using live ammunition and killing two passengers before any Israeli soldier descended on the deck.”
“During the attack, excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate force was used by the Israeli soldiers against the civilians on board. The passengers only exercised a lawful right of self-defense, without any firearms, against the armed attack of the Israeli forces,” the report claims.
Relations between once-close allies Turkey and Israel have frayed almost to the breaking point in the past year over the raid.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and Turkish leaders denounced Israel repeatedly over the attack. Turkey has made an Israeli apology and compensation for the victims’ families a condition for improved ties.
An Israeli panel on Sunday cleared the military and government of any wrongdoing during last year’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, but the finding appeared unlikely to repair damage to Israel’s standing, the Associated Press reported.
The report said the armed defense of Israel’s maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip was justified under international law. A wave of international condemnation of the raid forced Israel to ease the blockade.
The nearly 300-page report echoed an earlier military investigation that faulted the planning and execution of the operation. Even so, it said the blockade of Gaza and the raid were legal and justified.
Turkey swiftly condemned Sunday’s report, saying it was “surprised, appalled and dismayed” by its findings.