Israeli Exonerates Itself in Deadly Raid on Peaceful Flotilla

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Israeli Exonerates Itself in Deadly Raid on Peaceful Flotilla

Contradicting a UN report, inquiry exonerates military of wrongdoing in raid on Gaza-bound Turkish aid vessel.

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The commission questioned several high-ranking Israeli officials, but was not given access to individual soldiers. (EPA)

An Israeli inquiry commission has defended the actions of the
country's troops during a deadly raid on a Turkish-led flotilla of ships
carrying aid to the Gaza Strip last year.

The core findings were issued in a 300-page report released on Sunday by an Israeli government-appointed panel.

Made up of four Israelis and two foreign observers, the panel said Israel did not violate international law.

However, it did criticise the military planners of the mission for
not taking into account the possibility of serious violence in the May
raid.

"The soldiers were placed in a situation they were not completely prepared for and had not anticipated," the commission said.

The report, which was was widely expected to exonerate the country's
military of any wrongdoing, contradicts a UN-backed report issued last
year.

UN report contradictions

In September, a UN-appointed panel concluded that Israeli forces
showed "incredible violence" during and after the raid on the flotilla
that left eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American dead.

The UN probe added that there was "clear evidence to support
prosecutions" against Israel for "wilful killing" and torture committed
when its troops stormed the aid flotilla.

Israel's military response to the flotilla "betrayed an unacceptable
level of brutality" and violated international law "including
international humanitarian and human rights law", the three-member panel
said.

"The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the
flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but
demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence."

The commando raid on the group of aid ships prompting international
criticism of Israel's actions and soured relations with several
countries, particularly Turkey.

High-ranking testimony

Israel established its own commission of inquiry after rejecting
criticism that its troops had acted with excessive force in the raid.

The inquiry commission, headed by Yaakov Turkel, a former supreme
court judge, is reportedly also examining several other aspects of the
raid, and is expected to release a second report at an as yet
unspecified date.

That report is expected to look at the mechanisms available for complaints about the raid.

The
commission has heard testimony from high-ranking Israeli officials,
including Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak,
the defence minister, and General Gabi Ashkenazi, the army chief.

Giving testimony last year, Barak termed the flotilla a "planned
provocation". He said that top officials had suspected that the aid
convoy's organisers were "preparing for an armed conflict to embarrass
Israel".

"We regret any loss of life," he said, "but we would have lost more lives if we had behaved differently."

None of the soldiers who carried out the raid were authorised to
provide their testimony. The commission was only authorised to speak to
the army chief or Major-General Giora Eiland, who carried out the
military's own investigation into the incident, on matters relating to
the military's response.

Commission members were authorised to submit questions to individual
soldiers who participated in the raid only through a military committee.

Turkish reaction

The raid on the flotilla severely damaged Israel's relations with
Turkey, which had been one of the few Muslim countries to enjoy friendly
relations with it.

Cengiz Aktar, a journalist with the Turkish Daily News, told Al Jazeera that this latest report is unlikely to change that situation.

"I expect tomorrow quite a harsh reaction from the [Turkish] ministry
of foreign affairs, because the report, at least the first part ...
looks ... basically insufficient and very much one-sided. Yet another
farcical report," he said.

"The relationship between the two countries is slowing down at a
tremendous pace, and this report won't help. There were some attempts by
some members of the Israeli cabinet, but it totally failed, and this
report will be yet another blow.

"I think, tough times ahead, really."

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