I$raHell escapes war crimes charges over deadly Gaza flotilla raid

Ten Turkish activists were killed when Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara ship which was part of the Free Gaza flotilla in May 2010

By Charles Oniana

The Hague (AFP) – The International Criminal Court (ICC) will not launch a prosecution over Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 in which 10 Turkish activists died, despite a “reasonable basis” to believe war crimes were committed, the chief prosecutor said Thursday.

Fatou Bensouda said that there would be no investigation leading to a potential prosecution because the alleged crimes, including the killing of the 10 activists by Israeli commandos, were not of “sufficient gravity”.

“The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed on board the Comorian-registered vessel the Mavi Marmara during the interception of the flotilla,” Bensouda said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, after carefully assessing all relevant considerations, I have concluded that the potential case(s) likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of ‘sufficient gravity’ to justify further action by the ICC,” she said.

Nine Turkish nationals died when Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a six-ship flotilla seeking to bust Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip on May 31, 2010. A tenth activist later died of his wounds.

– ‘Our struggle is not over’ –

“Taking into account the serious nature of the physical injuries caused by the IDF’s (Israeli Defence Force) use of force against some affected passengers, and even bearing in mind self-defence… the information available provides for a reasonable basis to believe that the IDF soldiers committed (a) war crime,” Bensouda said.

The ICC, which was set up in 2002, tries persons accused of the “most serious crimes of international concern”, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

At a press conference in Istanbul, attorneys representing the Comoros denounced the decision as “politically-motivated”. They vowed to appeal against it by “all legal avenues” open to them.

International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor …
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the alleged crimes were not  …

“This is a struggle for justice, humanity and honour,” attorney Ramazan Ariturk said.

“Our struggle is not over. We will appeal to a higher court for a review and hopefully achieve a favourable result,” he added.

Turkish Aid group IHH, which organised the flotilla, said in a statement on Wednesday that although ICC “admitted the crimes and wrongfulness of Israel”, it “couldn’t take the liberty of going on with the investigation”.

Israel acknowledged the decision while expressing regret that the court’s time had been wasted looking into what it called a “politically-motivated” complaint.

“Israel believes that it was pointless to initiate a preliminary inquiry in the first place,” a foreign ministry statement said, adding that the court was established to “combat the world’s worst atrocities”.

It also noted that the incident had already been “thoroughly examined in detail” by both an Israeli committee and one established by the UN.

It said that both of these probes “determined that the IDF soldiers were forced to respond with force to protect their lives from lethal, pre-planned and organised violence”.

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006 after militants there seized an Israeli soldier, who was eventually freed in 2011 in a trade for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The blockade was strengthened in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza, then eased somewhat following an international outcry over the killing of the Turkish activists.

A Turkish court in May ordered the arrest of four former Israeli military chiefs over the raid as part of an ongoing trial in absentia brought by IHH and the victims’ families in 2012.

The assault sparked widespread condemnation and provoked a major diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador, demanded a formal apology and compensation and an end to the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli probe found that the raid did not violate international law, in a conclusion which Turkey said lacked credibility.

Israel and Turkey, encouraged by the United States, had until this year been negotiating a compensation deal to normalise their relations.

However this was put off indefinitely by Israel’s deadly onslaught on the Gaza Strip which Turkey strongly condemned.

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