Israel flotilla probe: Turkey `stunned`, rights groups furious
An Israeli probe ruled that May 2010 raid on Gaza-bound aid ships was lawful.
Jerusalem: An Israeli probe ruled on Sunday that a May 2010 raid on Gaza-bound aid ships that killed nine Turks was in keeping with international law, a finding which "stunned and dismayed" Ankara.
In its preliminary findings released the same day, a Turkish investigation said Israeli troops had used "disproportionate" force in boarding the flotilla of ships to prevent them from reaching Israeli-blockaded Gaza.
Meanwhile, rights groups lambasted the probe. “They are morally and legally blind,” said Ran Yaron, of Physicians for Human Rights.
“Their understanding twists reality, is sinful to truth, and is an immoral and inhuman analysis of the data that was presented to them by the different human rights organisations.”
The assault earned the Jewish state international censure, prompting Israeli MPs to appoint a commission to examine both the military operation`s legality and Israel`s blockade.
In its report, Israel`s six-member commission concluded that both the raid and the blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory complied with international law.
"The naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip ... was legal pursuant to the rules of international law," the panel said.
"The actions carried out by Israel on May 31, 2010 to enforce the naval blockade had the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries," the report said.
"Nonetheless ... the actions taken were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law."
The commission said Israeli troops "encountered extreme violence" when they boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, a ferry carrying around 600 people that led the six-ship flotilla.
A group of activists from the Turkish Islamist IHH organisation on board the ship "used firearms against the soldiers during the hostilities”, the report said, repeating an allegation denied by the activists.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraced the findings.
"I hope that those who hurried to judge Israel, who hurried to judge the soldiers and condemn them, I hope they will read this report and learn the truth about the incidents," Netanyahu said.
"The truth is simple. The soldiers defended their country and they defended themselves and that is not only their right, but their duty," Netanyahu said.
"The state of Israel stands behind them and thanks them for their courage."
But Turkey reacted angrily, with Netanyahu`s counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan charging that the Israeli report lacked any credibility, quoted by Turkey`s Anatolia news agency.
"How can a report ordered and prepared in the same country have any value?" the Turkish Premier told journalists in Ankara. "This report has no credibility."
And a separate probe by Turkish investigators concluded that Israeli troops had used excessive force.
"The force used to intercept the Mavi Marmara exceeded the limits of what was appropriate and necessary," said Turkey`s commission, which interviewed Turkish and foreign activists on the flotilla.
It called on Israel to pay compensation to families of the victims.
The Turkish commission, in a separate statement, said it was "stunned and dismayed" by the conclusions of the report of the Israeli commission, which included two international observers.
"The attack carried out by Israel was a violation of rights, in times of peace or of war, and was also against all international principles, rules and norms," the commission said.
Israeli rights groups also reacted with dismay. Israel`s Physicians for Human Rights accused the commission of "moral and legal blindness”.
In Gaza, the ruling Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas dismissed the Israeli report as "a desperate attempt ... to improve the image (of Israel) by covering up the crime."
The Mavi Marmara was the biggest of the vessels that in the group attempting to break Israel`s blockade on the Gaza Strip, imposed in June 2006 after Gaza militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli commission heard testimony from high-ranking Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Army Chief General Gabi Ashkenazi.
None of the soldiers who actually participated in the raid were authorised to testify.
Two other panels are examining the incident.
The United Nations Human Rights Council quickly formed its own inquiry panel, with which Israel refused to cooperate on the grounds that it was biased against the Jewish state.
And in August 2010, UN chief Ban Ki-moon named his own panel to investigate, chaired by New Zealand former premier Geoffrey Palmer, and with representatives from both Israel and Turkey.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, in an e-mail, said on Sunday that the panel would "review material provided by both sides, Israel and Turkey”.