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U.N. panel’s report says Gaza blockade was legal

Reuters

September 1, 2011 | 2:01 pm

Mavi Marmara is pictured under maintenance in a shipyard in Istanbul May 30, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Mavi Marmara is pictured under maintenance in a shipyard in Istanbul May 30, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal

A long-awaited U.N. report on a May 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks says that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The report by a panel of investigators, which was due to be released on Friday but was leaked in full to the Times, also said that Israeli commandos faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers.”

It also had some criticism of Israel. It said the amount of force used by the Israelis on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest in a flotilla of six ships that the crew said were delivering aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, was “excessive and unreasonable.”

The release of the so-called Palmer report was delayed repeatedly to allow for Israeli-Turkish rapprochement talks. Washington has been concerned at the rift between two countries that had been strategic partners in an increasingly stormy Middle East.

The report, prepared by a U.N. panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, was originally expected to be completed in February.

But the Turks and Israelis were never able to reach an agreement on what happened and what the conclusions of the report should be, diplomats and U.N. officials said. As a result, one U.N. official said, the report is not a “consensus document.”

Israel, however, expressed some satisfaction.

“The bottom line is that the Israeli actions were legal,” a senior Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It (the report) says the naval blockade was legal under international law.”

It is also significant that the report confirmed Israel’s right to search ships in international waters, the official said. He said he hoped Israel and Turkey could put the flotilla incident behind them and rebuild their once-strong ties.

“I hope that we (Israel and Turkey) can ... go forward forward in our relationship,” he said.

The Israeli foreign ministry, however, declined to provide any official reaction to the report.

“We will only make a public comment once the report is officially released,” ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Turkey’s U.N. mission had no immediate reaction either.

Ankara has demanded that Israel apologize for the raid, but the Israeli government has made clear it will not issue a formal apology.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced regret over the killings, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a centrist in the conservative coalition government, has stirred debate inside the cabinet by proposing Israel offer a diluted apology in hope of restoring ties with Turkey, once an important Muslim ally.

Barak had also thought such a step would help indemnify Israel’s navy personnel against lawsuits abroad.

Israel calls its Gaza blockade a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea. Palestinians and their supporters say the blockade is illegal collective punishment, a view some U.N. officials have echoed.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, additional reporting by Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Eric Walsh

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