Middle East

Israel defence minister says flotilla aimed to provoke

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak gives evidence to the Turkel commission – 10 August 2010
Image caption Ehud Barak said he took responsibility for ordering the flotilla raid

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has said that a flotilla of ships taking aid to Gaza in May of this year was a "planned provocation".

Giving evidence before an Israeli government-appointed commission, he said the flotilla - which was intending to break an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza - had been designed to embarrass Israel.

Nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli commandos carried out a raid on the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla.

Turkey, meanwhile, has called on Israel to "take responsibility" for the raid.

"Nobody can lay on the responsibility of killing civilians in international waters onto somebody else," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

"We have a very clear situation. Israel has killed nine civilians in international waters. Before anything else, they should take responsibility for this… Turkey has absolutely no responsibility in the incident," he added.

The raid has severely damaged bilateral Israeli-Turkish ties and Ankara continues to insist that Israel apologise for its action.

UN investigation

Turkey is due to hold its own inquiry into the raid and a separate UN investigation into the incident is due to start on Tuesday.

The Israeli government has said it will not co-operate with the panel if it tries to call Israeli military personnel.

Critics have attacked the Israeli investigation's remit as too narrow.

Subsequent international investigations are expected to be more critical of Israeli policy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared before the government-appointed commission on Monday, when he insisted that Israel "acted under international law" when it intercepted the flotilla.

Differing accounts

Israel has said its commandos used live fire only after being attacked with clubs, knives and gunfire by activists.

But activists on board the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, where all the killings took place, say the commandos started shooting as soon as they boarded the vessel.

Results of Turkish post-mortem examinations have suggested that a total of 30 bullets were found in the bodies of the nine dead activists, including one who had been shot four times in the head.

After criticism from its allies over the flotilla incident, Israel considerably eased its blockade of Gaza - allowing in more food and humanitarian goods.

Israel and Egypt have imposed the blockade on the coastal territory since the Islamist militant group, Hamas, seized control of it in 2007.

The Israelis say it is intended to stop militants in Gaza from obtaining rockets to fire at Israel.

The restrictions have been widely described as collective punishment of the population of Gaza, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

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