UN Gaza aid probe finds 'clear evidence' against Israel

23rd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

A UN probe said Wednesday there was clear evidence to back prosecutions against Israel for killing and torture when its troops stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May.

In a scathing report, it also threw out Israel's argument that the aid activists were violent, thereby justifying the decision by Israeli soldiers to open fire.

The incident left nine Turkish nationals dead and drew global condemnation.

Saying some were victims of actions "consistent with... summary execution," the inquiry ordered by the UN Human Rights Council said Israel's military used "unnecessary violence."

These "constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law," it said, adding there was "clear evidence to support prosecutions" of crimes including "willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; and willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health."

Israel rejected the report as "biased" and "one-sided."

"As expected of a democratic country, Israel has been -- and still is -- investigating the events of the Gaza flotilla," said a statement released by the Israeli foreign ministry late Wednesday night.

It added that its own committee of inquiry, which includes two international observers, was still at work and that Israel had also agreed to take part in an inquiry set up by the UN Secretary General.

"The report... is as biased and as one sided as the body that has produced it," the statement said.

"Israel... is of the opinion that the flotilla incident is amply and sufficiently investigated as it is. All additional dealing with this issue is superfluous and unproductive."

Israel has insisted that it acted in line with international law, arguing that it had the right to retaliate against ships attempting to breach its blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip.

However, the probe said Israel's enforcement of a blockade was itself unlawful, since Gaza was suffering from a humanitarian crisis on the day of the deadly raid.

"For this reason alone, the blockade is unlawful and cannot be sustained in law. This is so regardless of the grounds on which it is sought to justify the legality of the blockade," said the report, which will be presented to the rights council on Monday.

It said even those activists who did not try to stop Israeli soldiers from boarding the aid ships "received injuries, including fatal injuries."

"It is apparent that no effort was made to minimise injuries at certain states of the operation and that the use of live fire was done in an extensive and arbitrary manner," said the inquiry.

"The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution," it added.

"The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla pasengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence," said the probe.

The fact-finding mission, chaired by Karl Hudson-Phillips, former judge of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, had travelled to Turkey, Jordan and Britain to interview witnesses and officials for the probe.

Desmond de Silva, former chief prosecutor of the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal, and Shanthi Dairiam, as Malaysian human rights expert, are the other members of the panel.

© 2010 AFP

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