After a series of debates last week, the Council of Europe avoided condemning Israel and decided not to call for an international commission of enquiry into the flotilla affair under the Council's auspices. The decision is contrary to previous declarations from the Council's secretary general, Thorbjørn Jagland. However, the Council did criticize Israel for its handling of the flotilla affair and called for the complete lifting of the Gaza Strip blockade.
The Council determined that Israel acted in violation of international law and that its reaction to the flotilla was disproportional. The Council also called on Hamas to release abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and meanwhile to allow Red Cross representatives to visit him immediately.
The decision also calls on Israel to lift the siege without compromising Israel's security. It welcomed the easing of restrictions, calling them a "first step," but noted that goods must be allowed into the Strip overland and via the sea to enable normal living conditions and economic development.
The Council convened a plenary session in Strasbourg this week for a series of urgent meetings following the IDF raid on the Turkish flotilla which left nine activists dead and many wounded. The decision will be passed on as a recommendation to the body's Committee of Ministers.
Israel sent a delegation to the debates headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima). MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) and MK Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu) also took part.
The delegation represented Israel's position in the Council's policy committee, during the plenum, and during personal meetings with Council members supportive of Israel. Delegation members tried to tone down the decision which was expected to condemn Israel in harsh terms, with the operative implications associated with such a condemnation.
Before the debates, Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland called for a condemnation of Israel, while the head of the Turkish delegation to the Council said he would work towards establishing an international commission of enquiry into the flotilla affair. It should be noted that the Council supported the establishment of a commission of enquiry into Operation Cast Lead.
While the final decision calls on Israel to lift the siege and determined that Israel had violated principles of international law in the way it prevented the flotilla from reaching its destination, it stopped short of condemnation and did not call for establishing an international commission of enquiry.
The chairman of the campaign to free Shalit, Shimshon Liebman, responded positively to the decision and the immediate visit of a Red Cross representative to the abducted soldier. However, he noted that similar decisions by other international bodies had not influenced Hamas.
"Such decisions give the Shalit family strength," he said, adding that it was hard for the family to feel any relief due to past experiences when such calls were completely ignored.
"The IDF operation was in keeping with principles of international law and its aim was to prevent the strengthening of Hamas, which wants to destroy the State of Israel and to set up an Islamic, non-democratic state which is against all enlightened principles and values promoted by the Council of Europe," said Plesner to Council members.
Plesner also condemned Turkey's "cynical use of international institutions, when, in the name of promoting human rights, it actually promotes its cooperation with Hamas and Iran."
On Saturday, Gilad Shalit will have been in captivity for four years.
News agencies also contributed to this report.