Israeli aid convoy raid 'was legal'

Israel’s prime minister today claimed its commando raid that left nine dead on an aid flotilla heading for Gaza was justified under international law.

Benjamin Netanyahu also suggested that Turkey, from where the vessels sailed, had been deliberately seeking a confrontation.

He was giving evidence to an Israeli commission investigating the government’s decisions leading up to the raid on May 31.

The United Nations has announced its own inquiry.

The commandos met violent resistance on board the Mavi Marmara and opened fire, killing nine Turkish activists.

The action brought an international outcry that eventually forced Israel to ease its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Both the pro-Palestinian activists on board the vessel and the Israeli soldiers have accused each other of provoking the violence.

Israel had tried to convince Turkey to stop the Gaza-bound flotilla before sailing, Mr Netanyahu said, but “as we got closer to the date it became clear our diplomatic efforts would not stop it.”

“Apparently the government of Turkey did not see potential friction between Turkish activists and Israel as something that goes against its interests, and definitely nothing that justified effective pressure on the IHH activists,” he said.

He said the Israeli soldiers displayed “exceptional bravery in carrying out their mission and in defending themselves from genuine and lethal danger.”

An Israeli military inquiry found that military intelligence had failed to predict the resistance on the Turkish vessel, and troops went in unprepared, expecting only passive resistance.

“I am convinced that in the end of your investigation it will be clear that Israel and the Israel Defence Forces acted in accordance with international law,” Mr Netanyahu told the commission.

The five-member commission, joined by two foreign observers, has no legal powers to punish. But its conclusions could be politically damaging if it establishes that any wrongdoing had taken place.

The protest flotilla was organised by a Turkish charity, IHH, with close ties to Turkey’s Islamic governing party. Turkey’s government has noticeably cooled ties with long-time ally Israel after the raid.

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