Naharnet

Official: Israel to Accept U.N. Flotilla Report with 'Reservations'

Israel will accept the United Nations report on its deadly attack last year on a Turkish-led flotilla of aid boats for the Gaza Strip with some reservations, a senior official said Friday.

"We will announce our acceptance of the report after its official publication, with specific reservations," the official who declined to be identified told Agence France Presse.

The official stressed that the report had declared legal Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory, according to the text published in the New York Times Thursday.

"The report demonstrates that the naval blockade and its implementation conforms with international law," he said.

The reservations were expected to deal with the criticism that Israeli troops used excessive and unreasonable force when boarding the ferry Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, leading to the deaths of nine people.

The report's official release has been delayed several times because of the failure of Turkey and Israel to agree a final version. A U.N. spokesman said however that it was expected to be handed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in coming days.

Eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish descent died on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of the six-vessel convoy, after Israeli special forces in speed boats and dropped from helicopters boarded it in international waters.

"Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable," said the inquiry, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer.

It said forensic evidence showed that "most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range" and this has "not been adequately accounted for" by Israel.

It added, however, that the flotilla "acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade" and the Israeli "faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara, requiring them to use force for their own protection."

The inquiry called on Israel to make "an appropriate statement of regret" for the raid and pay compensation to the families of the dead as well as to injured victims.

Former allies Turkey and Israel should resume full diplomatic relations "repairing their relationship in the interests of stability in the Middle East," it added.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel the day after the raid and has said that there can be no normalization of ties without an apology and an end to the Gaza blockade, which it insists is illegal.

The report said Israel was entitled to impose the blockade and enforce it, but added: "The manner of its enforcement, however, raises serious issues of concern.

"The resort to boarding without warning or consent and the use of such substantial force treated the flotilla as if it represented an immediate military threat to Israel. That was far from being the case and is inconsistent with the nature of the vessels and their passengers."

It also said that "more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions."

Spokesman for the Hamas rulers of Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the U.N. report was "unjust and unbalanced" and would allow Israel "to shirk its responsibilities."

Israel's Gisha human rights group said "the Palmer Report missed the opportunity to re-evaluate the entire policy of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has still not been lifted."

Einat Wilf, an Israeli lawmaker and member of the Knesset foreign affairs commission, told AFP the report "clearly exonerates Israel on the main issues regarding the legality of the blockade, the legality of stopping incoming ships in international waters and the existence of violence, resistance to the Israeli soldiers."

Source: Agence France Presse


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