BBC News | 11 August 2010 | 18:08 GMT
The head of Israel’s military has defended its troops’ use of live ammunition during a deadly raid on an aid flotilla sailing to Gaza in May. But Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi told an Israeli inquiry they underestimated the threat and should have used more force to subdue activists before boarding. Nine people were killed on board the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, as it tried to breach an Israeli naval blockade. Meanwhile, there is disagreement over a separate UN inquiry into the incident. Israel has agreed it will co-operate only if its soldiers do not have to give evidence to investigators, who have begun work in New York. However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has denied making such a deal. There was widespread international criticism of Israel’s actions, which severely strained relations with its long-time Muslim ally, Turkey.
Testifying before the Turkel Commission in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Gen Ashkenazi said he took full responsibility for the army operation and was “proud” of the commandos who took part. He said they had not prepared to meet violent resistance on board the ships, and that live fire was used only after the troops were fired on by pro-Palestinian activists and attacked with knives, clubs and metal rods. But the general said “accurate weapons”, rather than stun grenades, should have been employed to incapacitate people on the deck of the ship before the commandos rappelled onto it. “We should have ensured sterile conditions in order to dispatch the forces in a minimum amount of time,” he said. “It would have lowered the risk to our soldiers but it would not have prevented the tension… Once the decision was made to stop the ship, the conflict was inevitable.”
Those on board the Mavi Marmara, where the activists were killed, say the commandos opened fire as soon as they boarded the vessel, which was in international waters at the time. The BBC’s Paul Wood in Jerusalem says Gen Ashkenazi’s remarks can be seen as part of the internal blame-game
Deutsche Welle | AFP | AP | 10/08/2010
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has told a special Israeli commission that a Gaza-bound aid flotilla seized in a bloody commando raid in May was a “planned provocation” and that Israel had expected a violent dispute weeks in advance. Barak said during discussions going back to April “the image that emerged… was that the organizations [behind the flotilla] were preparing for armed conflict to embarrass Israel.”
The former prime minister was the second of three top officials to give sworn testimony before an Israeli investigative panel established to examine the legality of the raid that left nine Turkish activists dead. “We regret any loss of life,” Barak told the panel. “But we would have lost more lives if we had behaved differently.” Skirmished erupted on the flotilla vessels on May 31 after Israeli commandos rappelled aboard in an attempt to stop the ships from breaking a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Activists on board the ships say the troops began firing immediately, whereas military personnel say they were retaliating after being attacked after boarding.
In ‘accordance with the law’
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu testified that Israel had done nothing wrong. “I am convinced that at the end of your investigation, it will become clear that the state of Israel and the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acted in accordance with international law,” Continue reading
U.S. envoy George Mitchell resumed his push for direct Middle East peace talks on Tuesday with signs coming from Palestinian leaders that they might bow to pressure and agree to meet the Israelis face-to-face. Mitchell was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to address questions from both before returning home on Wednesday. The stalled peace process resumed in May after an 18-month hiatus, but only at the level of indirect “proximity talks”, in which Mitchell acts as a shuttling, third-party diplomat. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants direct talks to resume by September before a partial moratorium on Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank is set to expire, with possibly dire consequences for the process.
Abbas hinted on Monday that he might soon bow to international pressure, end the impasse and resume direct negotiations for the first time in almost two years. Netanyahu has said he is ready to begin immediately. “Until now, we did not agree,” Abbas said. “We may face other pressures that we cannot endure. If that happens, I will study this thing with the leadership … and take the appropriate decision,” he told reporters at his office.
Abbas insists that direct talks tackle all territory Israel has occupied since capturing them in the 1967 Middle East war. He includes Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state and the Jordan Valley, where Israel might insist on continuing to secure the Jordan border with its own forces. Abbas also wants a total halt to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, and an agreed Continue reading