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Israel Rejects Findings Of UN Rights Probe Of Gaza Flotilla Raid


Israeli forces approach one of the six ships bound for Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31.
Israel has rejected as "one-sided" and "biased" an investigation commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which concluded that Israel's military broke international laws during a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Eight Turkish pro-Palestinian activists and one Turkish-American were killed and others injured after Israeli commandos boarded the six-ship convoy on May 31, as it tried to breach an Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel says its troops opened fire after coming under attack by activists wielding clubs, metal rods, and axes. The activists said they were defending their ship after it was attacked by Israeli soldiers in international waters.

The convoy's passengers were detained and later deported by Israel.

There was widespread international criticism of the raid, which severely strained relations with Israel's long-time Muslim ally Turkey and forced Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza.

'Willful Killing, Torture'

In a 56-page report, the Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission said the action by Israeli commandos was "disproportionate" and "betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality."

The panel of three international lawyers said there was "clear evidence" to support prosecutions of a series of alleged crimes, including "willful killing" and "torture."

It also said the Israeli blockade of Gaza was "unlawful" because of a humanitarian crisis in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The panel interviewed more than 100 witnesses in Britain, Jordan, Switzerland, and Turkey -- but not in Israel.

Israel insists its soldiers acted in self-defense during the raid and that it was within its rights to enforce its blockade of Gaza.

In a statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the Human Rights Council had a "biased, politicized, and extremist approach."

It noted that Israel is still conducting its own independent inquiry into the flotilla raid. It has two foreign observers, but critics say its remit is too narrow.

'Superfluous And Unproductive'

Israel has also been working with a separate UN inquiry into the raid. The group under New Zealand's former Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe has yet to publish its findings.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said "all additional dealing with this issue is superfluous and unproductive."

The Palestinian group Hamas, however, praised the findings of the report. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called for “a mechanism in order to translate this report into action and to bring the occupation commanders to trial for the crimes they committed."

And the report is said to have been welcomed by Turkey, whose foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was quoted as calling it "extremely unbiased."

The report was compiled by Trinidad’s Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, former judge of the International Criminal Court in The Hague; Britain’s Desmond de Silva, former chief prosecutor of the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal; and Malaysian women's rights advocate Mary Shanthi Dairiam.

It is scheduled to be debated in the council on September 27.

The UN Human Rights Council had already condemned the raid in a resolution in June.

The Geneva-based council was set up four years ago to replace the Human Rights Commission, the old UN body whose image was tarnished because some countries with poor rights records had used their membership to protect one another from condemnation.

But critics say the council faces many of the same problems -- in particular, critics note that it has repeatedly singled out Israel for criticism.

compiled from agency reports