Middle East

Q&A: Israeli raid on Gaza aid flotilla

Mavi Marmara leaves from Sarayburnu port in Istanbul 22 May 2010 Image copyright AP
Image caption The Mavi Marmara was the lead ship in a six-vessel aid convoy

The International Criminal Court has said it will not take action over Israel's commando raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip on 31 May 2010 despite a "reasonable basis to believe that war crimes… were committed" because it must prioritise war crimes on a larger scale, it says. Nine activists were killed in the incident and dozens wounded.

How did the confrontation begin?

The six ships in the flotilla were boarded in international waters, about 130km (80 miles) from the Israeli coast. Commandos landed on the largest ship, the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, by descending on ropes from helicopters. Clashes broke out immediately and the Israeli commandos opened fire.

Who started the violence?

Image copyright AP
Image caption The Israeli commandos faced "significant, organised and violent resistance", the UN said

This is disputed. The activists say the commandos started shooting as soon as they hit the deck. Israeli officials say the commandos opened fire only after being attacked with clubs, knives and a gun which was taken from them. Video released by the Israeli military stops just before the shooting begins. A UN inquiry was apparently unable to determine at exactly which point the commandos used live fire.

Who was killed?

Nine Turkish activists died in the raid. One had dual Turkish-US nationality. All were travelling on the Mavi Marmara.

What was the flotilla trying to do?

It wanted to deliver aid to Gaza, breaking an Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the territory. The ships were carrying 10,000 tonnes of goods, including school supplies, building materials and two large electricity generators. The activists also said they wanted to make the point that, in their view, the blockade was illegal under international law.

Who organised it?

A group called The Free Gaza Movement, an umbrella organisation for activists from numerous countries, and a Turkish group called the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH).

The Israeli government says that the IHH is linked to the Palestinian Islamist organisation Hamas, which it views as a terrorist group.

However, the Turkish government regards the IHH as a legitimate charity, and had urged Israel to let the flotilla through.

Why did Israel want to stop the flotilla?

Image copyright AP
Image caption The Mavi Marmara was carrying goods such as cement and scaffolding poles

Israel was preventing a range of goods from reaching Gaza in order to put pressure on Hamas. These included building materials which it said could be used to make launchers for rockets.

Israel said it also wanted to check that the ships did not contain deliveries of weapons or cash. It offered to allow the flotilla to land in an Israeli port, and to deliver by road any goods that passed its checks.

How did the international community react?

There was widespread condemnation of the violence. The UN Security Council issued a statement calling for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent" inquiry into the raid.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel to lift the Gaza blockade.

What have the various inquiries found?

Image copyright AP
Image caption The ICC's Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she did not want to minimise the impact of the alleged crimes

In September 2010, a UN Human Rights Council report said Israel's military had broken international laws and that the commandos had "betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality".

Turkey's inquiry concluded that the actions of the commandos were "unlawful" and breached human rights.

An Israeli inquiry said that the actions of the navy were legal under international law. But it did criticise the planning of the military operation.

In September 2011, a UN panel concluded that force used by Israeli troops had been "excessive and unreasonable" and that no satisfactory explanation had been given about any of the deaths. But the report also said that commandos had faced violent resistance and had to "use force for their own protection".

In November 2014, a preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor concluded that the incident was not of "sufficient gravity" to be investigated by the ICC.

How were relations between Turkey and Israel affected?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologised three years after the incident

In the immediate aftermath, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for Israel to be punished for its "bloody massacre".

Turkey then expelled the Israeli ambassador in 2011.

In November 2012, a court in Istanbul began trying in absentia four retired Israeli commanders over the raid but the Israeli embassy said the trial had "no judicial credibility".

In March 2013, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did offer an apology to the Turkish people for "any errors that could have led to loss of life".

Was the dispute resolved?

On 22 March 2013, Mr Netanyahu spoke to Mr Erdogan in a telephone conversation brokered by US President Barack Obama.

Mr Netanyahu apologised to the Turkish people and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.

Mr Erdogan's accepted the apology "in the name of the Turkish people."