JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli inquiry commission defended the actions of the country's troops during last year's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound protest flotilla sailing from Turkey, finding in a report released Sunday that Israel had not violated international law.
While offering some criticism of the way the takeover was planned, the commission's conclusions exonerated the government, the military and individual soldiers of wrongdoing. The findings were unlikely to put to rest the international controversy over Israel's actions, which badly damaged its relations with Turkey and led to the formation of a U.N. investigation.
Israeli naval commandos killed nine activists aboard the Turkish protest ship Mavi Marmara on May 31 after passengers resisted the takeover of the vessel in international waters. The condemnation that followed the bloodshed forced Israel to ease the blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The nearly 300-page reported released Sunday by the government-appointed commission said the naval blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, the decision to intercept the protest flotilla in international waters and the soldiers' use of lethal force "were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law."
The commission, headed by a retired Supreme Court justice, included four Israeli members and two international observers — David Trimble, a Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, and Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, Canada's former chief military prosecutor. All signed off on the conclusions.
A fifth Israeli participant, 93-year-old international law expert Shabtai Rosenne, passed away during the deliberations.
Soldiers rappelling from helicopters onto the deck of the Marmara, with some 600 passengers on board, were mobbed by several dozen activists as they landed on deck one by one.
Soldiers were beaten, and some were thrown onto a lower deck. According to Sunday's report, two of the soldiers were shot, apparently with weapons taken from the Israelis themselves. Both soldiers and activists have said they acted in self-defense.
The commission faulted the military planners of the mission for not taking into account the possibility of serious violence, saying that "the soldiers were placed in a situation they were not completely prepared for and had not anticipated."
However, looking at 133 individual cases in which soldiers used force — 16 of them involving shooting to kill — the commission found soldiers had acted properly and that their lives had been in danger. The soldiers, the report said, "acted professionally in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence."
Alan Baker, former legal adviser to Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the report likely will be accepted and rejected by countries based on their prior feelings toward Israel.
He said the committee's makeup should boost its credibility among Israel's allies. He also expected the U.N.'s commission to take it seriously.
"Whether this will persuade Turkey is doubtful. Whether this will persuade the Arab countries is very doubtful. I think the serious countries will take it very seriously because of the people who were involved and because of the international observers," he said.
"I doubt very much whether it will make an impression on those elements of the international community who are pushing the anti-Israel hostility," he added.