Netanyahu’s tour of the top-security Flotilla 13 base on the coast near Haifa was a show of defiance against international censure of the raid on the converted cruise liner Mavi Marmara.
It followed testimony on Sunday from Israel’s military chief, who told a state-appointed inquest into the operation that the commandos had come under pistol, knife and cudgel attacks while boarding and fired 308 live bullets in response.
In Ankara, a spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry declined to make detailed comment on Netanyahu’s strongly worded praise for the Israeli naval commandos. “From the very beginning, our view of this issue has been stated in the most open way. There is nothing to add to that,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal told reporters on Wednesday when asked to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks at a press conference.
The nighttime interception on Mediterranean high seas and the ensuing bloodshed strained Israel’s once-close ties with Turkey, which has demanded an apology and compensation. A United Nations probe last month condemned the attack as unlawful and said it resulted in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. UN jurists also said the Gaza blockade had caused a humanitarian crisis and was unlawful.
OIC head urges focus on Gaza blockade
Condemnatory statements must be trumped in favor of international law to end the long-standing humanitarian tragedy caused in the Gaza Strip by the unjust Israeli blockade, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has stated, while calling for the generation of ideas to better assist the people of Gaza.
Representatives of 57 member-states of the OIC and of private institutions gathered in Jeddah over the weekend for a meeting of the Group of Legal Experts. Speaking at the meeting, İhsanoğlu called for practical proposals on how OIC member states and private institutions can go about ending the siege and encouraged participants to come up with ideas on how international law can best assist the subjugated people and hold their victimizers to account, according to a statement from OIC.
İhsanoğlu stressed that the Muslim world cannot allow this disgraceful siege to continue to devastate the inhabitants of Gaza as the whole world is watching. The secretary-general said that dealing with the issue of the Israeli blockade of Gaza Strip requires a multi-pronged attack including political, humanitarian and judicial approaches.
Israel imposed the blockade after the Hamas takeover of Gaza, allowing only a limited selection of basic goods in since 2007. It came under world pressure to ease the embargo after an aid flotilla was raided in May by the Israel military, resulting in the deaths of nine activists comprising eight Turks and one Turkish-American. Ankara Today’s Zaman
Netanyahu said the May 31 raid on the Turkish vessel, one of six ships trying to run Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, had been “crucial, essential, important and legal.” “Gaza has turned into an Iranian terror base,” he said, referring to the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, in a speech to around 200 members of the unit. He heaped praise on the commandos, saying they had acted “courageously, morally and with restraint.”
Flotilla 13 commandos had been equipped with riot-dispersal gear but quickly switched to live fire during deck brawls with dozens of activists. Activists from the Mavi Marmara have confirmed they resisted the Israeli boarding party but denied provoking lethal violence.
At the same press conference, Ünal stopped short of denying recent news reports saying that Mavi Marmara, along with five other ships in the flotilla, had changed its route from Gaza to the Egyptian port of al-Arish following preliminary warnings from the Israel authorities.
Turkish dailies reported earlier this week that the change of route was known not only by the highest-level officials of Israel and Turkey but also of the United States. “We are not in a position to deny this,” Ünal responded when reminded of the news reports, and added that Turkey has been waiting for the finalization of a report on the attack which will be drafted by a panel established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in early August.
Turkey announced in mid-August that a National Investigation and Examination Commission had been established by the Prime Ministry to investigate the attack and the treatment of persons participating in the convoy -- in order to prepare a report for presentation to the UN panel of inquiry. Ünal said Ambassador Mithat Rende, the commission’s contact person, had handed over an interim report to UN officials at the international organization’s New York City headquarters on Sept. 1 and said Ankara expected Israel to hand over its own report on the issue to the UN as well.
Bristling at the fury from Turkey and other countries over the Mavi Marmara raid, yet wary of international war crimes suits, Israel set up its own inquiry to help prepare its submission for the separate probe under the UN’s Ban.
Interim findings from that inquest, under retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel, are due out in mid-November and the final report by early 2011, a spokesman said. Another internal investigation by an Israeli ex-general is already complete.