WASHINGTON – A report by three UN-appointed human rights experts Wednesday said that Israeli forces violated international law and showed "incredible violence" when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killing nine activists earlier this year.
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The UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission concluded in a 56-page document that Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there, and described the military raid on the flotilla as brutal and disproportionate.
The report used information derived from the testimonies given before the Turkel Committee – the Israeli commission tasked with probing the events of the Gaza flotilla – including those given by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other high ranking officials, to completely dismiss Israel's version of the events, alleging that Israel sought a violent altercation.
According to the UN probe, there is "clear evidence to support prosecutions" against Israel for "willful killing" and torture committed when its troops stormed the aid flotilla in May.
The report all but accepts the Marmara's passengers' version of the events in its entirety, negating Israel's claim that IDF soldiers boarding the ship were wounded by live fire, saying that, "Despite requests, the Mission has not received any medical records or other substantiated information from the Israeli authorities regarding any firearm injuries sustained by soldiers participating in the raid.
"Doctors examined the three soldiers taken below decks and no firearm injuries were noted. Further, the Mission finds that the Israeli accounts so inconsistent and contradictory with regard to evidence of alleged firearms injuries to Israeli soldiers that it has to reject it."
'Evidence supports prosecution'
The Israeli soldiers, continued the report, shot at wounded passengers with various munitions, including live fire. The committee's forensic analysis, "Demonstrates that two of the passengers killed on the top deck received wounds compatible with being shot at close range while lying on the ground.
"(…)Furthermore, some of the wounded were subjected to further violence including being hit with the butt of a weapon, being kicked in the head, chest and back and being verbally abused."
The report also claimed that while "the flotilla organizers and other passengers engaged in efforts to request the Israeli forces to provide the necessary treatment to the wounded persons… These attempts proved unsuccessful and it was up to two hours before the Israeli forces took out the wounded persons."
'Soldiers not shot,' an IDF soldier assaulted on the Marmara (Photo: AFP)
"There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: Willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health," said the inquiry.
The Fourth Geneva Convention is an international treaty governing the protection of civilians in times of war.
"The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence," said the probe.
"A series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to deportation," the experts found.
Examining the circumstances of the raid, the panel concluded that a humanitarian crisis existed in Gaza on the day of the incident in Gaza and "for this reason alone the blockade is unlawful and cannot be sustained in law."
Israel: Report biased, politicized
The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded late Wednesday by saying the Human Rights Council had a "biased, politicized and extremist approach."
Israel has maintained that its soldiers acted in self-defense when they shot and killed eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American aboard the Mavi Marmara on May 31.
"The Human Rights Council blamed Israel prior to the investigation and it is no surprise that they condemn after," said Andy David, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, referring to the 47-member body's resolution in early June condemning the raid.
Israel refused to cooperate with the panel, preferring instead to work with a separate UN group under New Zealand's former Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe that is also examining the incident but has yet to publish its findings.
"Israel is a democratic and law abiding country that carefully observes international law and, when need be, knows how to investigate itself," the Foreign Ministry statement said. "That is how Israel has always acted, and that is the way in which investigations were conducted following Operation Cast Lead, launched to protect the inhabitants of southern Israel from rockets and terror attacks carried out by Hamas from Gaza."
Knesset Member Hanin Zaobi (Balad), who was on the Turkish ship during the raid, said she "welcomes the committee for its professionalism and decency in its efforts to reveal the truth. Nonetheless, we must not settle for a condemnation, but work to put the criminals, those who gave the orders and those who executed them on trial."
The MK called on the Israeli government to "face these conclusions,' adding that "all the typical slander attempts will not make Israel innocent."
Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the Islamist group Hamas that controls Gaza, said the report emphasized that Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories violates human rights "not only against Palestinian people but against innocent people who came to show their sympathy."
"Now it's required to be a mechanism in order to translate this report into action and to bring the occupation commanders to trial for the crimes they committed," Barhoum said.
The Human Rights Council's report was compiled by former UN war crimes prosecutor Desmond de Silva, Trinidadian judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips and Malaysian women's rights advocate Mary Shanthi Dairiam. It is scheduled to be presented to the council on Monday.
The Associated Press, AFP and Ronen Medzini contributed to this report
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