Israel defends right to raid aid ships heading for Gaza
Israel defended during a hearing of the UN Human Rights Committee on Wednesday its right to retaliate against aid ships attempting to breach its blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip.
"No ship can breach this blockade, be they civil or military ships. Whoever violates the blockade is heading for retaliation," Israeli envoy Sari Rubenstein told the committee.
"The blockade is legitimate, under international law... a blockade can be imposed on the sea," she insisted, during the two-day committee hearing on how Israel was applying its obligations under the UN treaty on civil and political rights.
Israel came under pressure after the deadly storming of aid ships bound for Gaza at the end of May. A Libyan aid ship is currently on its way for Gaza, although it is being shadowed by several Israeli warships.
Defending May's military operation, Israeli ambassador Aharon Leshno Yaar claimed that "of the nine dead, seven had said they wished to die onboard these ships.
People on the aid ship say that Israeli forces opened fire as soon as they stormed the vessel, while Israel says its troops were attacked by those on the boat, forcing them to use deadly force.
"These are not activists for peace, but messengers of death," the ambassador charged on the second day of the UN committee session.
The committee had attacked Israel for failing to apply its obligations under a treaty on civil and political rights on the occupied Palestinian territories.
The UN says Israel is responsible for Gaza's 1.5 million population as it controls access to its sea and air ports, while Israel insists it is not the occupying power as it does not control territory within the Gaza Strip.
"I think that we cannot sweep aside with a stroke of the hand the application of the treaty in the Palestinian territories," said a member of the committee, Christine Chanet.
Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in 1967 and occupied it until 2005. Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, since when Israel has blockaded access by sea and air to the impoverished territory.
Rafah in Egypt, the only crossing into Gaza not controlled by Israel, remains largely closed as its opening requires the presence of Palestinian Authority officials who were ejected by Hamas in 2007.
Israeli attorney general Malkiel Blass argued however that given the rise of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Israel's withdrawal of its forces from the zone, "Israel can clearly not be said to have effective control in the Gaza Strip."
As such, "the convention, which is a territorially bound convention, does not apply, nor was it intended to apply to areas outside its national territory," he noted.
Since Israeli troops killed the nine Turks on the aid boat, global pressure has forced Israel to significantly change its policy on Gaza, and now it prevents only the import of arms and goods it says could be used to build weapons or fortifications.
© 2010 AFP