UN condemns brutality of Israeli raid on aid flotilla

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The Independent Online

The Israeli military was guilty of "an unacceptable level of brutality" and deployed "totally unnecessary and incredible violence" in the raid last May on a humanitarian assistance flotilla off the coast of Gaza that killed nine people, a United Nations panel says in a report released last night.

After a fact-finding mission ordered by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the three authors of the report give almost no quarter to Israel about the episode, saying that its forces violated international law.

The findings come even as a second high-level panel created by the UN Security Council is preparing shortly to issue its own interim findings. Israel refused to co-operate with the Human Rights Council team and was swift last night in dismissing its conclusions. The Council "blamed Israel prior to the investigation and it is no surprise that they condemn after," said Andy David, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. Israel contends that when the violence broke out on the Marvi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla that had come from Turkey, its soldiers were acting in self-defence.

Israel "knows how to investigate itself," a 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 attacks carried out by Hamas from Gaza."

The Human Rights Council's report was written by the former war crimes prosecutor Desmond de Silva, Trinidadian judge Karl Hudson-Phillips and Malaysian women's rights advocate Mary Shanthi Dairiam.

"The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence," the inquiry concluded. "It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds."

The authors said it was clear to them that there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza when the aid flotilla was approaching. "The preponderance of evidence is too overwhelming to come to a contrary opinion," the report said. "Any denial that this is so cannot be sustained... For this reason alone, the blockade is unlawful."

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, which controls Gaza, said the report confirms that Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories is a human rights violation "not only against Palestinian people but against innocent people who came to show their sympathy".

He called for action "to bring the occupation commanders to trial for the crimes they committed".

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