x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UN report says Israeli raid on aid flotilla was illegal

Israel has dismissed a UN report that found the country violated international law during a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine people.

Hamas naval police personnel hold a ceremony in the Gaza City port for the nine people killed during Israel's raid on an aid flotilla.
Hamas naval police personnel hold a ceremony in the Gaza City port for the nine people killed during Israel's raid on an aid flotilla.

JERUSALEM // Israel yesterday dismissed a UN report that found the country violated international law during a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine people. The report, released in Geneva by a special fact-finding team from the UN Human Rights Council, concluded that the attack was "brutal" and "disproportionate". Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip was illegal because of the continuing humanitarian crisis there, it said.

Eight Turkish activists and another Turkish-American participant were killed during the raid on the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying medical and humanitarian supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip. Israel's response was belittling. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the UN fact-finding team amounted to little more than a "kangaroo court". "Obviously there are no surprises here - the UN Human Rights Council has been accused of having an anti-Israel obsession by many," he said. "You have a situation where countries with atrocious human-rights records sit there [on the council] and dictate policy."

Mr Regev's comments followed a sharp rebuke of the report by the Israeli foreign ministry on Wednesday, which called the UN body's stance on the issue "biased, politicised and extremist". The foreign ministry statement added: "Israel sees no reason to cooperate with this commission". Turkey, however, welcomed the report. The document was "extremely impartial and based on sound evidence", Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, told Turkish reporters at the United Nations in New York. "We appreciate it." The minister said his country had always placed much emphasis on the findings of an impartial commission. No country was above international law, he added in reference to Israel.

The 56-page UN report, issued on Wednesday, lists a series of alleged crimes committed by Israeli forces during and after the raid, including wilful killing and torture, and claims there is "clear evidence to support prosecutions". "Lethal force was employed by the Israeli soldiers in a widespread and arbitrary manner which caused an unnecessarily large number of persons to be killed or seriously injured," the report said. "Less extreme means could have been employed in nearly all instances of the Israeli operation, since there was no imminent threat to soldiers."

Israel has set up its own inquiry into the incident, led by Jacob Turkel, a retired Israeli judge. The findings of the government-appointed inquiry, known as the Turkel Commission, are nearing completion, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Wednesday. Israel began easing its blockade of the Gaza Strip after the flotilla incident, allowing in some goods but still prohibiting the importation of so-called dual-use items, such as construction and other materials that are considered vital for the area's economic development.

Gaza has been subjected to an intensified blockade after a three-week war in the territory that started in 2008 following the area's takeover in 2007 by the Islamist group Hamas. Hanin Zuabi, a member of the Israeli Knesset who was aboard the Mavi Marmara during the clash, criticised the Turkel Commission for its lack of impartiality yesterday and called on Israel to take the UN conclusions seriously.

"Israel can't investigate itself while it's being accused of violating laws," she said. "This goes for any country in the world." The UN Human Rights Council has long been criticised by Israel as being biased, and Wednesday's report, said Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at Hebrew University, would perhaps serve hawkish elements in Israeli society. "Let me say that Israel is not free of mistakes and human-rights violations," he said. "But when people take into account the history of the conflict, and then when they see such reports, it makes them angry. There's a feeling that they can't rely on anyone but their own force, and because of emotional reasons, that gives more credibility to the hawks."

@Email:hnaylor@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Thomas Seibert in Istanbul and the Associated Press