An Israeli panel has cleared the country’s military and government of any wrongdoing during last year’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound international flotilla.
The report said the armed defence of Israel’s maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip was justified under international law, but the finding is unlikely to repair damage to Israel’s standing over the incident on May 31 last year.
Nine pro-Palestinian activists, eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish American were killed as Israeli commandos boarded one of the ships in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, leading to a wave of international condemnation which forced Israel to ease the blockade.
The incident damaged relations with Turkey and led the United Nations chief to order an international investigation.
Turkey swiftly condemned yesterday’s report, saying it was “surprised, appalled and dismayed”, but Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the inquiry.
“I hope all those who rushed to judgment against Israel and its soldiers will read this report and learn the truth about what happened,” he said. “The truth is that our soldiers were defending our country – and defending their very lives.”
The nearly 300-page report echoed an earlier military investigation that blamed the planning and execution of the operation. But it said the blockade of Gaza and the raid were legal and justified.
“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 flotilla aimed to bring attention to the blockade of Gaza, which Israel imposed after Hamas militants captured an Israeli soldier in 2006, and tightened after Hamas seized control of the territory the following year. Israel said the blockade was needed to prevent Hamas, an armed group that has fired thousands of rockets at Israel, from building up its arsenal.
Critics have noted the blockade did little to weaken Hamas or halt weapons smuggling, while causing widespread economic hardship and shortages of foods and other basic items.