U.S. civil suit brought against Israeli ex-PM Ehud Barak

Relatives of a 19-year-old U.S. citizen killed in Israel's 2010 storming of a Turkish-led aid flotilla are suing former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for the raid, in which nine activists died.

Furkan Dogan, a dual Turkish-U.S. citizen, was filming on the flotilla carrying some 700 activists attempting to land humanitarian aid in circumvention of Israel's blockade of Gaza when Israeli Defence Force commandos forcefully intervened.

Dogan was shot five times, including point blank in the head, according to his lawyers. At the time, Israel said the flotilla's crew had been warned repeatedly before the raid.

The civil case is being brought in California by some of the same human rights lawyers who have been attempting, so far unsuccessfully, to force the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) to mount a criminal investigation into the incident.

Dan Stormer, a California attorney, said Barak, who was defense minister at the time of the raid on the flotilla, was served with suit papers on Tuesday evening after giving a speech in Thousand Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles.

“The papers were given to one of his bodyguards who later handed it to Barak in front of witnesses,” Stormer said, adding that he believed damages awarded could run into the “tens of millions of dollars”.

The case is being brought in U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Claims, Torture Prevention and Anti-Terrorist acts. Since it is a civil suit, there is no possibility of Barak facing arrest.

The lawsuit represents the latest attempt to bring the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among the world's longest-running and most contentious, into the courtroom.

“We have been pursuing every possible legal avenue to obtain justice for the victims of the flotilla,” said Rodney Dixon, who has been arguing for the case to come before the ICC.

Earlier this year, the ICC launched a preliminary probe into possible crimes committed by both sides during Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza.

In August, a settlement was reached between a Jordanian bank and victims of suicide bombs sanctioned by Palestinian militant group Hamas, ending a long-running lawsuit in the state of New York.

Israel intercepts flotilla vessel attempting to break blockade of Gaza

The Israeli Navy intercepted an activist ship in the waters off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

Commandos from the Shayetet 13 naval special forces unit boarded the Marianne of Gothenburg early Monday morning and began sailing the ship, which was trying to breach Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza, to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The takeover of the vessel and its approximately 20 passengers was short and there were no casualties, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.  The passengers are expected to be interviewed and then deported. Among the passengers is the Arab-Israeli lawmaker Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab list.

The IDF said the seizure followed numerous requests for the ship to change course, in accordance with international law. Three other flotilla ships carrying about 30 passengers turned back before they were be boarded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended the sailors and commanders of the Navy for their “determined and efficient action in detaining the passengers on the ship that tried to reach the Gaza coast in contravention of the law.”

“This flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting the Hamas terrorist organization and ignores all of the horrors in our region,” Netanyahu said in a statement released after the takeover of the Marianne. “Preventing entry by sea was done in accordance with international law and even received backing from a committee of the UN Secretary General.”

In a letter to be distributed to flotilla passengers upon their arrival in Israel, Netanyahu said: “Welcome to Israel. You seem to have gotten lost. Perhaps you meant to sail to a place not far from here – Syria, where Assad’s army is slaughtering its people every day, and is supported by the murderous Iranian regime.

“Here in Israel we face a reality in which terrorist organizations like Hamas try to kill innocent civilians. We defend our citizens against these attempts in accordance with international law.”

“Despite this, Israel transports goods and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip – up to 800 trucks a day. In the past year we enabled the entry of over 1.6 million tons of products, an average of one ton per person in the Gaza Strip. By the way, these supplies are equivalent to 500,000 boats like the one you came in on today.”

In a statement issued Monday morning, Ship to Gaza Sweden called on Israel to return the Marianne, release the passengers and allow them to travel to Gaza.

“Ship to Gaza Sweden protests against this flagrant abuse of the freedom of navigation,” the statement said. “Israel’s repeated acts of piracy in international waters are worrying signs that the occupation and blockade policy extends to the entire eastern Mediterranean.”

In the past, Israel’s Navy has intercepted ships attempting to breach the blockade. The Foreign Ministry said aid groups may send supplies to Israel for inspection, after which permissible goods would be transferred to Gaza.

In 2010, an Israeli Navy commando takeover of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship carrying activists armed with knives and clubs ended with nine Turkish nationals dead.

A work unworthy of Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker

What is a reviewer to do when a truly gifted writer writes a genuinely awful book?

I suspect that I was invited to write this review because the editor suspected that I might be open to the author’s experience, moved by the power of her words, and might not dismiss her critique of Israel, her sympathy with the Palestinians and her participation in the Gaza flotilla out of hand. 

Alice Walker is of my generation. I am familiar with her writings and often moved by her passion and the power and majesty of her words. We marched in many of the same marches; we knew in different ways many of the same people. Her mentor at Spelman College in Georgia, Howard Zinn, was later my teacher at Boston University. I marched with Zinn, I demonstrated with him, still I remained far more critical than Walker of his work then as now, but one could not fail to be impressed by his charisma and determination. She writes movingly of my college classmate Andrew Goodman, who was killed in Philadelphia, Miss., along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, two Jews and a black, civil rights workers during 1964’s “Freedom Summer.”

So, as I began reading Walker’s “The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wanderings as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way” (The New Press, 2013), I was prepared to be moved and pained, to be made to cringe by Israel’s occupation and the heavy-handedness of some of Israel’s actions.

Instead, I found a work that was uninformed and self-indulgent, where mistakes that could be corrected by a simple click of the mouse and stroke of the key in Google, remained untouched by the author and her editors, where history is unreliable and maps so thoroughly distorted that anyone who knows the Middle East finds them comical.

Examples abound. Permit me a few: Ariel Sharon was not the president of Israel, but its prime minister.

Example: An Israeli commission found Sharon indirectly responsible for the murders at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. The actual killing was done by Lebanese Christians who entered the camps and settled old scores. But one couldn’t learn that from Walker’s writings. According to Walker, “He [Sharon] led a massacre of the people.” I celebrate the fact that the Israeli public in response to the lessons of Jewish history and Jewish morality insisted that if a massacre occurred on its watch, it was its responsibility. But there is a world of difference between direct and indirect responsibility for a massacre, as any moralist — including Walker — should well know.

Further, I have no fondness for the Israeli general who only late in life came to understand that Israel could not continue to dominate a Palestinian population that did not want its rule. Sharon used the word occupation [kibbush], much to the chagrin of his former supporters and their fellow travelers in the United States. He withdrew from Gaza, resettling its Jewish inhabitants and abandoning settlements that had been productive and prosperous, able to house Palestinians comfortably, to offer them a livelihood from fertile hothouses that yielded fruits and vegetables. These settlements were burned down by an irate Palestinian population that was more intent on eradicating any remnant of Jewish presence than on bettering its own situation.

Example: A map illustrates the loss of Palestinian land from 1946 to 2000. It neglects to mention that Israel accepted partition in 1937 and 1947. The Arab countries chose to go to war when Israeli statehood was proclaimed in 1948. It omits the fact that it was Jordan that began the assault against Israel in 1967, after repeated requests that it stay out of the war, and that Israel’s conquest of the territories was the result of a defensive war.

Walker’s sentiments, however well-intentioned — and I don’t want to bother challenging her motives — are fundamentally unserious. Walker advocates a one-state solution. Muslims, Jews and Christians living together. Kumbaya.

 Anybody looking at the landscape of the Middle East has to wonder how one-state solutions are working for Shiite and Sunni Muslims, for Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt, for Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, for Alawites and Shiites in Syria.

In fairness to Walker, she is no less foolish here than Jews in Israel and in the United States who advocate a one-state solution, saying that Israel’s security is served by dominating a Palestinian population that does not welcome its rule. At least the president of the Palestinian Authority is clear, even if he is not politically correct, when he says that the Palestinian state to be created on the West Bank will not welcome Jews. 

I hate the wall that was erected to divide Israel and the Palestinian territory, but any serious student of the region must at least mention why it was erected and be cognizant of the fact that it has been effective in preventing killings.

Walker is an advocate of nonviolence. Yet she writes as if Israeli wars against Gaza were unprovoked, as if Israeli citizens were not bombed and innocents not murdered. She also writes as if the leaders of Gaza did not place its military resources within the civilian population hiding behind schoolchildren and sick people, presuming that Israel would be restrained because of its values. The best argument for nonviolence as a Palestinian tactic is to remember the difference between the tactics of Intifada I and of Intifada II and the response of the Israeli public.

Alice Walker has written many serious books worthy of your consideration; “The Cushion in the Road” is, sadly, not one of them. There are also substantive critiques of Israel’s action in Gaza and the West Bank by serious people who feel responsible to understand the complexity of the situation in its historical, moral and political context. This, too, is not one of those.

When an important writer writes a book unworthy of her reputation, one can respond with anger or with sadness. I prefer sadness.

Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at jewishjournal.com.

Ergogan disregards Kerry request to postpone Gaza visit

Turkey's prime minister will go ahead with a planned visit next month to Gaza, despite a request from US Secretary of State John Kerry to postpone.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly refused Kerry's request Sunday to postpone the visit, during a meeting between the two leaders in Istanbul. Erdogan had previously postponed his visit from this month until next, to take place after a scheduled meeting in Washington in mid-May.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also asked Erdogan to delay the visit during a meeting between the two men in Istanbul, saying it could harm relations between the West Bank and Gaza.

Erdogan reportedly plans to visit Gaza on or around May 31, the three-year anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli naval commandoes raided the ship attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israeli negotiators on Monday met in Ankara with Turkish officials to discuss paying compensation to the families of the victims of the 2010 raid.

The negotiations are part of the process of restoring diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey which were severed following the raid and which began the process of being repaired following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology last month to Erdogan.

Injured Turks will sue Israeli soldiers despite Bibi’s apology

Turkish nationals injured in Israel's raid on the Mavi Marmara said they will sue Israeli soldiers and their commanders despite Israel's apology.

“We will continue with the criminal lawsuits we have opened against the Israeli soldiers and commanders, and we won't accept dropping this suit if compensation is paid,” Musa Cogas, who was injured on the Mavi Marmara, told Reuters on Monday.

Turkey and Israel agreed to normalize ties after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month apologized for Israel's 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship as it attempted to evade a maritime blockade of Gaza and agreed to compensate the families of nine Turks killed in the ensuing violence when Israeli naval commandos boarded the ship.

As part of Israel's agreement on compensation, it wants lawsuits against Israeli soldiers dropped, according to Reuters.

A court case against former Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other high-ranking Israeli military officials opened in November in Istanbul. The charges reportedly include manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, causing bodily harm, deprivation of freedom, plundering, damage to property and illegal confiscation of property.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Netanyahu also agreed to ease the restriction of goods flowing into Gaza. Erdogan added that the normalization of relations with Israel would take time and would not take place until Israel fulfills the agreement. Erdogan is scheduled to visit the Hamas-run Gaza Strip this month.

Turkey withdrew its high-level diplomats from Israel and froze deals with Israel's military in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident.

Israel's government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal. The United Nations' Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey's inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to be illegal.

Turkey, Israel reconciliation far from fact

Just before President Barack Obama boarded Air Force One to leave Israel on a windy Friday afternoon last month, he made a dramatic announcement. Flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama announced that Israel had apologized to Turkey for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens aboard a flotilla trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and that the two countries would resume ties soon.

But since then, nothing has happened. An Israeli delegation was supposed to visit Ankara this week to discuss the issue of compensation, an issue Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has drawn as a deal-breaker for rapprochement. Israeli press reports said that Israel was offering $100,000 for each of those killed, while Turkey was demanding $1 million. Turkey’s Vice President said the amount has yet to be determined.

“The Israeli delegation was due to leave on Thursday for talks but we received a message from the Turks they want to delay that to the 22nd and of course we complied,” a senior Israeli official involved in the issue told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “We will be discussing all the issues raised in the phone conversation (between Prime Ministers Erdogan and Netanyahu), normalization of relations, and the exchange of ambassadors. We are talking about a process of improving relations with Turkey.”

In Turkey, analysts said the Israeli apology came as a welcome surprise.

“It is being seen as a victory here,” Barcin Yinanc, columnist and op-ed editor of Hurriyet Daily News told The Media Line. “The government took a principled stand and got even more than they had asked for.”

But she said that major differences between Israel and Turkey remain over the Palestinian issue.

“The Turks believe that Israel’s policy is poisonous to the Middle East and is not sustainable,” she said.

From Israel’s side, some said that Netanyahu, under pressure from Obama, had caved-in by apologizing. They said the Israeli soldiers only used force once they were attacked, and that the apology and compensation is a bad precedent for the future.

But others, like former Israeli ambassador Gabby Levy, said Israel should have apologized long ago. He also said repairing ties will not happen immediately.

“It should have been done long before. But at the same time the Israeli government should approach it carefully and shouldn’t raise too high expectation for a speedy process of reconciliation,” Levy told The Media Line. “It is going to take some time. We will never be able to get back to the level of warm relations we had previously.”

Levy said that Turkey had previously served as an intermediary for negotiations between Israel and Syria, but he did not think a similar role would be possible in the near future.

Until the flotilla incident, Israel and Turkey had agreements for military cooperation worth billions of dollars. Israeli defense companies, for example, modernized Turkish Air Force F-4 Phantoms and F-5 jets in a deal worth $900 million.

Turkey was also a popular tourist destination for Israelis, who do not need visas to enter. In 2008, some 560,000 Israelis visited Turkey, according to Israeli tourism officials. Those numbers declined sharply after the flotilla incident, and Israeli tourists turned to Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Croatia.

Israeli tourism professionals doubt that waves of Israelis will return to Turkey, at least in the near future.

“The resorts in Turkey are beautiful and the people on the Turkish coast of Antalya are friendly,” Mark Feldman, the owner of Ziontours in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “But Israelis are still hesitant, and the prices have gone up significantly. A few years ago we could offer packages for $99 – now summer packages are going for $599, the same as to Greece.”

Yet, Turkey and Israel still share interests in preventing the spread of radical Islam in the Middle East. Both are threatened by the growing fragmentation of Syria and the chance that Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Lebanon-based Hizbullah, Iran’s terrorist proxy. And both fear the growing power of Iran and the chance that Iran could become a nuclear power.

It is not clear how long the negotiations over compensation will take. If an agreement is reached, Israel will pay the money into a Turkish-government fund which will then disburse it to the victims’ families. The next step will be appointing ambassadors and re-staffing the embassies in both countries. That could take months, but it will take even longer before confidence will be restored.

Israel-Turkey rapprochement Accepting an apology graciously

“Turkey was the first to recognize Israel from the Muslim world. Since the 15th Century, Turkey was a shelter for the Jewish people. I can think of about 1,000 reasons why Turkey and Israel should be friends. There is an affinity in history; there is a closeness in geography.” These were the very first words of Israeli President Shimon Peres after Israel's apology to Turkey in an interview with a Turkish daily. I could not agree more with him.

First of all, I would like to start by saying that we — the people of Turkey — deeply cherish Israel's historic friendship with Turkey and deciding on an apology and compensation. These are surely momentous times in diplomacy, a turning point, but what is far more important is the meaning and message for our two people. An apology is a message from our Israeli friends saying that the friendship between Turkey and Israel is important to them and they wish to continue this friendship.

In the past, when my Israeli friends asked me whether I thought an apology was necessary, I always told them that I cannot decide such matters on behalf of the people of Israel, and that it was entirely up to them and their leaders to decide how to approach such issues. I, for one, do not place preconditions on an apology as it should be sincere, and cannot be done under compulsion.

Consequently, Israel chose to overlook the mistakes of Turkey regarding the Mavi Marmara incident, and apologized for her operational mistakes and promised to pay compensation to the families of those who died because she wants to put this incident behind her and continue with our long-established frienship.

Apology is an honorable, graceful act, and in my opinion it will increase people's respect for Israel. Apology is a courtesy, a great beauty, and thus it can never be degrading, humiliating or aggrieving. Israel did the right thing, and we deeply appreciate it.

However we should expect that some circles will attempt to make news just for provocation and attempt to ruin or interrupt this process of healing diplomatic ties. Nevertheless, we hear the voices of negative people who want to put Israel in a difficult position. So I would like to turn to my fellow Turks and criticize these voices that speak about this as though we made them cave in and apologize. It is absolutely wrong to attempt any kind of humiliation out of this and use this virtuous act as a tool for propaganda to incite anger. Israel is doing this for friendship. It is outrageous to use inflammatory language or condescend to using it as something against Israel. It is simply a humiliation upon those hateful voices for not knowing how to graciously appreciate this apology.

I also do not approve the billboards that the Ankara municipality has put up to thank Prime Minister Erdogan for allegedly compelling Israel to apologize. I do not think that either putting up such ads nor their gloating tone is right. This is not the way to accept an apology.

If one has apologized, then you must accept it right away. If someone apologizes, they are not to be dishonored. Someone who apologizes should be treated kindly, and gracious behavior should be shown. The kind of behavior that shows you accept him as a friend, and also shows your maturity, quality and worth. There is no place for such gloating in our tradition. That is why I find it deeply unbecoming to stooping to use this gracious act as something disadvantegous for Israel.

If this kind of humiliating rhetoric is used, then no friendship would be left. If one uses such inflammatory language, then it would mean consigning the friendship of Israel to the back burner and that would be a terrible mistake. Frankly I see this as an act to eliminate friendship so I condemn those who try to take this apology and twist it in such a way to dishonor Israel.

As to the issue of the Gaza blockade, it is unfortunate that this matter is still the source of a rift between Turkey and Israel, nor should it have been made a condition of Turkish-Israeli relations. Of course I look forward to the day when the blockade is lifted; I don't wish to see the Palestinians confined to their territories. But the Israelis have legitimate security concerns of rockets falling upon them being fired from Gaza, and they are deeply concerned about weapons being smuggled into Gaza via the Mediterranean. Consequently, we — as Turkey — must express that Israel's security is important to us as well, while also expressing our concern for the well-being of the citizens of Gaza. Justice is, after all, not one-sided.

We must not forget that Israel is a unique country dealing with existential threats on a daily basis. Throughout their history as a people, they have been beaten, driven out, chased, burned, hung and slaughtered. They have faced seemingly endless persecution, from the Roman Empire to the Spanish Inquistion, from the pogroms of the Tsars to the ravine at Babi Yar, from the mindless slaughter of the Crusaders to the mechanized factories of death which shall be forever remembered with horror; Auschwitz, Sobibor, Chelmno and others. The Israeli people have no wish to live worrying that fanatics, motivated by an irrational prejudice and hatred will kill and maim and bomb them and their children. Let us provide assurance so they can relax, and lift this nonsensical prejudice against them. We, as Muslims, must be able to guarantee the people of Israel that there will be no more of this madness.

So let me express this on behalf of Turkey: Of course we want security for Israel, and we want you to live in peace and prosperity. You must live in peace in your historic motherland which has been your home for thousands of years; we are not at all uneasy at your presence there. May God bestow peace and prosperity upon you till the End of Days. You are the children of prophets. There is plenty of land everywhere. It is one of our basic convictions to establish a unity in the whole region that will include Russia, Armenia and Israel, to live in peace and brotherhood, to ensure the independence of states within themselves and survival of their own governments, to advocate a fully-formed, mature democracy and the implementation of secularism with meticulous care. God willing, Israel will see their finest and their best days under this unity, side by side with Muslims, as brothers and sisters.

The author is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at a Turkish TV. She is also the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization. She can be reached on http://www.facebook.com/sinemtezyapar and https://twitter.com/SinemTezyapar.

After Mideast trip, Obama gains political capital. Will he spend it?

For a trip that U.S. officials had cautioned was not about getting “deliverables,” President Obama’s apparent success during his Middle East trip at getting Israel and Turkey to reconcile has raised some hopes for a breakthrough on another front: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The question now is whether Obama has the means or the will to push the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who stayed behind to follow up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s team on what happens next, made clear in his statement on Israel's apology to Turkey to place it in the broader context of the region’s tensions.

“As I discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening, this will help Israel meet the many challenges it faces in the region,” Kerry said in a statement issued Saturday evening.

Netanyahu’s apology to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, delivered Friday on the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac while crew members readied Air Force One for departure, took the political world by surprise.

After years of resisting, Netanyahu delivered the apology sought by Turkey since 2010 for the Israel commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine people aboard a Turkish vessel.

There may have been a hint of what was to come in a remark delivered to reporters by Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, in a March 14 conference call before the trip.

“Israel as it makes peace is going to have recognize the broader role of public opinion in peacemaking,” Rhodes said, referring to the need to reach out to populations, not just leaders, in the region.

It was a theme Obama seized upon in his March 21 speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

“Given the frustration in the international community about this conflict, Israel needs to reverse an undertow of isolation,” Obama said. Later in the speech, he added, “As more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace simply with a handful of autocratic leaders, those days are over.  Peace will have to be made among peoples, not just governments.”

The next afternoon, asked during a news conference with Jordanian King Abdullah how he brokered the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, Obama made it clear it was about advancing shared interests in the region.

“I have long said that it is in both the interest of Israel and Turkey to restore normal relations between two countries that have historically had good ties,” Obama said. “It broke down several years ago as a consequence of the flotilla incident.

“For the last two years, I’ve spoken to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan about why this rupture has to be mended, that they don’t have to agree on everything in order for them to come together around a whole range of common interests and common concerns.”

If there was much resistance in Israel to such an apology, it seemed to have dissipated in the wake of Obama’s charm offensive, which won over not only Israelis but even some American Jewish conservatives who have been among Obama’s fiercest critics.

“In terms of his attitude toward Israel, in the past three days Obama has altered his status in that regard from being the second coming of Jimmy Carter to that of another Bill Clinton,” wrote Jonathan Tobin, the senior online editor at Commentary magazine.

Emphasizing the Jewish connection to the land with visits to the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and a viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Obama’s good will appears to have superseded any Israeli resentment for being pressured into the apology to Turkey. A snap poll by Channel 2 in the aftermath of Obama’s visit found that 39 percent of Israelis had changed their opinion of Obama for the better, the Times of Israel reported.

Whether Obama, like Clinton, will be able to leverage such good will into pressure on Netanyahu’s government — and whether he wants to — remains to be seen. Obama has made clear that he wants Netanyahu to give him time on Iran, telling Channel 2 in a pre-trip interview that he sees the dangers of a nuclear Iran arising in about a year’s time, not in several months, as Israeli officials reportedly believe.

Obama also made clear that he wants to see progress in the Palestinian-Israeli talks, but he did so in a passive way, not by offering solutions but by urging Israelis to pressure their government.

“I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks,” Obama said in his March 21 speech. “You must create the change that you want to see.”

That’s not a clear plan, Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a post-trip analysis.

“Whether the shift on how peace talks should begin translates into a shift on how those talks should then proceed remains unclear,” he wrote.

Nonetheless, should Obama proceed, Satloff suggested, he now has the political capital to do so.

“If the basic idea behind visiting Israel was to open the administration's second term on surer footing in terms of U.S.-Israeli relations than what characterized the opening months of the president's first term,” Satloff wrote, “he appears to have succeeded.”

Israel seizes pro-Palestinian activist ship, Estelle off Gaza

The Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship on the Mediterranean high seas on Saturday to prevent it breaching Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.

She said no one was hurt when marines boarded the SV Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was rerouted to the Israeli port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave.

The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said on Saturday.

Shipboard activists could not immediately be reached for comment on the interception, which was carried out in international waters as they were on their final Gaza approach.

Greece, five of whose citizens were among the activists, said in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Athens that all of the Estelle's passengers were in good health.

Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighbouring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory.

Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million residents, and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and detained foreign activists repatriated.

In a May 2010 interception, Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their Gaza-bound ship.

An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found the Gaza blockade legal but faulted the Israeli navy for excessive force.

Israel goes to U.N. in effort to halt Gaza-bound ship

Israel asked the United Nations to stop a Swedish-owned ship carrying human rights activists from attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, called the ship Estelle a “provocation” that “raises tensions and could easily spark a serious escalation of the conflict.”

“I want to stress that Israel is not interested in confrontation but remains determined to enforce its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — and will take all lawful actions to this end,” Prosor wrote in a letter delivered Tuesday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Part of the Freedom Flotilla movement, the Estelle reportedly is carrying humanitarian aid such as cement, basketballs and musical instruments. The small vessel began its journey in Sweden and toured Europe, including Finland, France and Spain, before arriving earlier this month in the Gulf of Naples. It is due to arrive in Gaza's territorial waters early next week.

The boat, flying the Finnish flag, also is carrying at least 17 activists from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Israel and the United States. Members of parliament of four European countries reportedly boarded the vessel at sea near Greece on Tuesday, according to the Swedish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, which said there are now some 30 activists.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after the terrorist group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. It says the sanctions are to prevent weapons and other terror material from being smuggled in to Gaza,

The Freedom Flotilla's first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists after Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade.

Mavi Marmara victims’ families sue Israel

Relatives of nine Turkish citizens killed in the raid aboard the Mavi Marmara ship filed a lawsuit against Israel, according to Turkish reports.

The lawsuit was filed last Friday in a Turkish court by more than 30 relatives of Turkish citizens killed in the May 31, 2010 raid, as well as 30 others injured in the attack, according to the Hurriyet Daily News and the Anatolia news agency. They are calling for about $5 million in compensatory damages.

The trial against four Israeli commanders in the raid, including former Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, is scheduled to begin in a Turkish court in early November.

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade of the coastal strip.

Israel's government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations' Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey's inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to be illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have severed diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Swedish flotilla ship heading for Gaza sails from Italy

A Swedish ship carrying human rights activists attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza left from Italy.

The Estelle, carrying 17 activists from countries including Canada, Norway, Sweden, Israel  and the United States, sailed from the port at Naples on Saturday. The vessel, part of the Freedom Flotilla movement that included the ill-fated Mavi Marmara, reportedly is carrying humanitarian goods.

It will take about two weeks to reach Gaza's territorial waters, according to the French news agency AFP.

The Freedom Flotilla's first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists after Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade of the coastal strip.

A spokeswoman for the movement, Ann Ighe, told AFP that the Estelle “is a peaceful ship.”

The Estelle began its journey in Sweden and toured Europe, including Finland, France and Spain, before arriving last week in the Gulf of Naples.

Flotilla sponsor tweets that Zionists helped perpetrate the Holocaust

The founder of the Free Gaza Movement, which uses flotillas in trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, tweeted that Zionists were responsible for the Holocaust, then apologized.

Greta Berlin tweeted that she meant to post the tweet to her private Facebook account rather than the organization’s Twitter account.

The original tweet, sent Sept. 30 from @freegazaorg, read that “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” It linked to a video of Eustace Mullins, a conspiracy theorist, claiming that the word “Nazi” combines the words “National Socialist” and “Zionist.” Mullins died in 2010.

“I posted it from Facebook, not realizing that my private account was connected to the FG account. I apologise,” Berlin tweeted.

Although the Free Gaza Movement deleted the tweet, Avi Mayer of the Jewish Agency for Israel posted a screenshot of it on Monday, according to the National Post.

Israeli court dismisses charges in Rachel Corrie civil suit

An Israeli court dismissed all charges against the state in a civil suit brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed in Gaza after being run over by an Israeli military bulldozer.

In his verdict Tuesday, Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon ruled that the state was not responsible for Corrie’s death in 2003. Gershon said that Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist, entered the Gaza Strip despite knowing it was a war zone with live fire being exchanged daily. In addition, he cited a warning from the United States urging American citizens not to enter the Gaza Strip.

Corrie, 23, was an activist with the International Solidarity Movement, which protests on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. On March 16, 2003, she was acting as a human shield for a Gaza house set to be demolished by an armored bulldozer when she became enveloped in the pile of dirt created by the bulldozer as it moved toward the house. Corrie died soon afterward in a nearby hospital.

Her parents, Craig and Cindy, sued the state for responsibility in her death, claiming that the bulldozer advanced despite knowing that Corrie was in its path.

Gershon also said that because Corrie was standing behind the pile of dirt created by the bulldozer, the driver could not see her. The judge added that instead of moving away from the bulldozer as it advanced “as any reasonable person would do,” Corrie attempted to climb onto the pile of dirt created by the bulldozer.

“The party put herself in a dangerous situation opposite a bulldozer when he couldn’t see her,” Gershon said. “She didn’t move away like anyone of sound mind would. She found her death even after all of the IDF’s efforts to move her from the place.”

Gershon also dismissed charges that the state tampered with the evidence in an investigation into Corrie’s death.

The attorney for Corrie’s parents called the verdict a “failure to hold the Israeli military accountable.”

“This court has given a stamp of approval to the flouting of illegal practices that fail to protect human life,” said the attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein.

A lawyer for the state, Nirit Kalman, said, “We showed there was no negligence.”

Cindy Corrie told reporters following the verdict, “We are of course deeply saddened and deeply troubled by what we heard today from Judge Oded Gershon. This was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.”

‘No reason’ to apologize for Mavi Marmara incident, Lieberman tells Turkish journalists

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Turkish journalists that Israel has “no reason to apologize” for the Mavi Marmara incident.

Lieberman in a meeting Sunday with the journalists in Jerusalem said that Israel is ready to discuss the incident and would consider the issue of an apology as part of a package including other issues, such as Iran, Gaza and Hamas, the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman reported. He said current developments in the region made it important for Turkey and Israel to normalize relations.

Lieberman called the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, a “clear provocation, and it was our right to protect the lives of our soldiers. Frankly speaking, Israel has no reason to apologize,” he said.

Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the May 31, 2010 raid by Israeli commandos.

It was Lieberman’s first meeting with a Turkish delegation since the incident.

NGOs call on Israel to lift Gaza blockade

Some 50 nongovernmental organizations called on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law,” the groups said in a petition issued Thursday. “More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now.’ “

Israel initiated the blockade five years ago when the terrorist Hamas organization took over the coastal strip, which is home to 1.6 million Palestinians.

Signatories to the petition Amnesty International, Oxfam and the World Health Organization, as well United Nations bodies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization.

Israel relaxed the blockade restrictions two years ago, including expanding the list of building materials allowed in, but continues to inspect all goods entering Gaza to prevent terrorist activity.

Israel mishandled Gaza flotilla incident, comptroller report finds

Israel’s State Comptroller issued a report highly critical of the government’s handling of the Mavi Marmara Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza in 2010.

The report, issued Wednesday on the eve of Micha Lindenstrauss’ leaving his position, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision-making process was flawed and that the strategy did not follow the recommended protocol.

In addition, the report said, key agencies were kept in the dark about what was happening and the possibility of extreme or fatal violence was ignored. There also was no proper documentation of discussions surrounding actions taken against the flotilla nor the decisions that were made.

“Israel’s democratic process includes institutional mechanisms for independent oversight and we thank the State Comptroller for his work,” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said in a statement.

“We reiterate that the panel established by the UN Secretary General to investigate the flotilla incident clearly ruled that the maritime blockade to prevent weapons reaching the terrorists in Gaza is legitimate self defense and that Israel’s decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law. Ultimately, weapons that reach Hamas in Gaza end up being used against Israeli civilians.”

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip. Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the raid.

Lindenstrauss also criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak for not looking into whether the army was prepared to deal with a violent response from the Marmara’s passengers.

The report also criticized Israel’s public response to the incident, saying it maintained silent for too long while Palestinian supporters capitalized on the tragedy in the media.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Thousands in Istanbul rally against Israel

Thousands of Turks in Istanbul rallied against Israel Thursday, marking the second anniversary of an Israel Defense Forces raid on the Mavi Marmara ship that was part of a flotilla that claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Israel had determined that the flotilla was violating its blockade of the coastal area, and found weapons aboard.

The Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as IHH and one of the main groups behind the flotilla, organized Thursday’s rally. Israel, the United States and other nations consider the IHH to be a terrorist group.

Protesters in Turkey called for those responsible for the raid to be held accountable, AFP reported.

Earlier this week, a Turkish criminal court accepted indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid.

Turkey and Israel have not had diplomatic relations since the raid.

Turkish criminal court accepts indictments against Israeli commanders

A Turkish criminal court accepted indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship.

İstanbul’s 7th High Criminal Court on Monday unanimously accepted the indictment submitted last week by a special Turkish prosecutor, according to the English-language Turkish news service Today’s Zaman.

The 144-page indictment seeks 10 aggravated life jail sentences against former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi; Navy commander Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom; military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin; and the head of Air Force intelligence, Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi.

The soldiers who carried out the raid are expected to be named in a separate indictment, following an ongoing investigation, according to Zaman.

The indictment mentions 10 “slain Turks.” Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the raid. The 10th person is a man who remains in a vegetative state, according to Zaman. The indictment also reportedly refers to 490 victims and complainants, including 189 who were reported injured in the attacks.

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Turkey prepares indictments against 4 Israeli commanders over flotilla incident

A special prosecutor in Istanbul has prepared indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship.

The 144-page indictment seeks 10 aggravated life jail sentences for each commander, including former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, according to the English-language daily Turkish news service Today’s Zaman, citing the Sabah daily.

The other Israeli commanders to be indicted reportedly are Israeli Navy commander Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom; Israel’s military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin; and Air Forces Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi.

The indictment mentions 10 “slain Turks.” Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed during the raid, A tenth man remains in a vegetative state, according to Zaman. The indictment also reportedly refers to 490 victims and complainants, including 189 people who were reported injured in the attacks.

Sabah said the indictment had been submitted to Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı, who is expected to approve the request to submit it to the appropriate court.

Israeli naval commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning it not to sail into waters near Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals were killed in the ensuing clashes.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel. .

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal. 

Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and for the lifting of the naval blockade of Gaza. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Turkey ready to issue indictments in Marmara incident

Turkish government prosecutors have completed their investigation into the incident aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara in 2010.

The prosecutors have requested from Israel’s Foreign Ministry the names of the Israeli soldiers to be listed on the indictment, Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said Tuesday according to the English-language Today’s Zaman, citing the Anatolia news agency.

Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara,which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning it not to sail into waters near Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals, including one Turkish-American man, were killed in the clashes.

The Israeli government-appointed Turkel commission investigated the incident, despite calls from the United Nations to hold an independent investigation. The commission found that the government and the military behaved appropriately and that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was legal.

The UN-appointed Palmer committee also found the Gaza blockade to be illegal but said that Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel. .

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal.

Turkey says Israel not welcome at NATO summit

Turkey blocked the participation of Israel in next month’s NATO Summit in Chicago, a Turkish newspaper reported.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vetoed Israel’s participation during a NATO foreign ministers meeting last week in Brussels, the Hurriyet Daily News reported Monday.

“There will be no Israeli presence at the NATO meeting unless they issue a formal apology and pay compensation for the Turkish citizens their commandos killed in international waters,” a senior Turkish official told Hurriyet, referring to the deaths of nine Turkish activists during an Israeli naval commando raid on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara as it attempted to break Israeli’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010. 

“Those countries who wish to see normalization in ties between Turkey and Israel should advise Israel to apologize and to compensate the killing of Turks in international waters,” the official told the news service.

Israel, as well as other countries including Egypt, Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco, is a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program.

Turkey has previously vetoed Israeli attempts to participate more fully in NATO. It vetoed an Israeli request to open an office at NATO headquarters and its participation in some Mediterranean Dialogue group activities, according to Hurriyet.

“You are talking about being partners and partnership values. But partners, first of everything, should act like partners, so that we’ll treat them accordingly,” Davutoglu said during last week’s NATO meeting, according to Hurriyet

Case closed against Israeli flotilla participants

Israel’s attorney general has closed the case against Israelis who participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla.

Yehuda Weinstein ended the case against Israeli-Arab lawmaker Hanin Zoabi and other Israeli nationals over “significant evidence-based and legal difficulties,” the Justice Ministry said Thursday. Zoabi participated on the flotilla on the Mavi Marmara, which was raided by Israeli naval commandos. Nine Turkish nationals were killed during the raid.

The Knesset stripped Zoabi of several diplomatic privileges following her participation in the flotilla.

Speaking of the attorney general’s decision, Zoabi said, according to Ynet, “This proves that what I said all along was true – my participation in the flotilla was a legal political act. Now there is room for an apology from Knesset members who incited against me.”

The Israeli nationals were investigated on suspicion of attempting to enter Gaza unlawfully.

Australian lawmaker’s call against Israel criticized

The head of Australian Jewry scolded a left-wing parliamentarian who demanded that an Australian member of a Gaza-bound flotilla be immediately released.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Dr. Danny Lamm chastized Greens Sen. Lee Rhiannon Monday after she called on the Israeli government to release Sydney resident Michael Coleman, one of 27 pro-Palestinian activists arrested Nov. 4 by the Israeli Navy as they trief to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

“It is the Israeli Defense Forces that have acted illegally as the boat Mr. Coleman and other Freedom Waves participants were on was in international waters when intercepted,” said Rhiannon, a vocal supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

But Lamm retorted: “Senator Rhiannon’s characterization of the blockade of Gaza and the boarding of vessels that are used to break the blockade as ‘illegal’ is mendacious nonsense.

“The people who want to break the blockade are not interested in providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians,” Lamm added. “If that was their fundamental aim, they could send their supplies in by land via Israel.  Their main purpose is to harm Israel and her people.”

Israel government, security services websites down in suspected cyber-attack [VIDEO]

Several Israeli government websites crashed on Sunday in what appeared to be a cyber-attack by hackers. The websites of the IDF, Mossad and the Shin Bet security services were among the sites that went down, as well as several government portals and ministries.

The apparent attack comes after the international cabal of hackers known as Anonymous threatened a cyber-attack on the Israeli government’s computers in response to its interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla on Friday.

The IDF and Shin Bet said they were investigating the reason for the malfunction. Security officials stressed that only the external government sites crashed, and that the internal computer networks were unharmed.

In a video that was uploaded to YouTube, Anonymous warns that if the siege on Gaza is maintained, it will have no choice but to go on the attack.

Anonymous said that if the siege continues and Israeli forces intercept additional flotillas, or if they conduct additional operations such as the commandeering of the Mavi Marmara, it will have no alternative but to launch repeated cyber-attacks on Israeli computer systems until the siege ends.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israeli navy intercepts Gaza-bound boats

The Israeli navy Friday boarded two boats carrying pro-Palestinian activists toward the Gaza Strip in a fresh challenge to Israel’s blockade of the Islamist-controlled territory.

The military said in a statement that the Canadian “Tahrir” and Irish “Saoirse” vessels, which had 27 people on board, would be taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“The Israel Navy soldiers operated as planned, and took every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the activists onboard the vessels as well as themselves,” the statement said. A military source said nobody was injured in the operation.

In May 2010, Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara aid vessel to enforce the naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave, and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists, some of them armed with clubs and knives.

Israel spurned Ankara’s demand for an apology over the incident. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador two months ago.

Carrying a small amount of medical supplies, the “Tahrir and “Saoirse” had sailed from Turkey Wednesday. The Israeli military said the boats were in international waters when they were stopped, between 40 and 60 miles from the coast.

The activists on board came from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States, and included Palestinians and at least one Arab citizen of Israel, organizers said.

The two boats had continued sailing toward Gaza, ignoring instructions to turn around or unload their supplies in Israel or neighboring Egypt, Israeli military officials said.

Citing the need to prevent weapons smuggling, Israel has blockaded Gaza since the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

A U.N. report on Israel’s interception of the 2010 Turkish ship said the blockade was a “legitimate security measure,” adding that “its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.” Turkey has rejected that ruling.

Pro-Palestinian groups behind the latest attempt to reach Gaza by sea condemn the blockade as illegal and inhumane.

Paul Murphy, a socialist member of the European Parliament on board one of the ships, wrote in a blog posted earlier on the Internet that the mission was in “response to the call from people within Gaza to try to break the siege they suffer under.”

Israeli authorities said that once the two boats had reached Ashdod, they would undergo security checks. Those on board would be questioned, then taken to prison service holding facilities where they will wait until booked on flights back home.

They have the right to a court hearing before being deported.

Israel allows humanitarian aid, food and some other supplies into Gaza for its 1.7 million people, many of them impoverished refugees, via land crossings it closely monitors. Gaza also has a border with Egypt over which goods are imported.

Gaza’s Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh praised the attempt to break the blockade in a sermon at a mosque on Friday: “We appreciate highly those activists who came in solidarity and we stress that their goal is being achieved whether or not they arrived by exposing (Israeli) occupation (measures).”

Turkey had threatened to give naval protection to future aid flotillas following the 2010 violence, but Ankara has kept largely quiet about this latest operation.

Some of the activists, who dubbed their mission “Freedom Waves,” had participated in a thwarted seaborne attempt in June to reach Gaza, which was blocked from setting sail from Greece.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Seven Jewish lawmakers press Obama on Turkey

Seven Jewish House members urged President Obama to conduct an intensive review of the country’s relationship with Turkey.

“It appears that our long-standing ally in Ankara is drifting toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies,” said the letter sent Wednesday by the lawmakers, all Democrats.

The signers are U.S. Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee; Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee; Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

“In response, the United States needs to undertake an urgent review of our relations with Turkey and our overall strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the letter said.

The letter referred to Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador after a United Nations investigation partially vindicated Israel in its May 2010 raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship headed to the Gaza Strip—the raid resulted in a melee that killed nine Turks—as well as what it said were aggressive Turkish postures toward Cyprus and the European Union.

Separately, Engel and Berkley called for a suspension of sales of military equipment to Turkey.

“We urge our Congressional colleagues to join us in rejecting any attempt to supply weapons to a country that is threatening some of America’s closest allies and supporting terrorist groups like Hamas,” they said in a statement.

The Turkish charity that organized the May 2010 flotilla is believed to have ties with Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Israel ready to stop boats heading for Gaza

The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists which left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only “we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers.”

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and U.S. activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a “provocation,” she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast.

Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.

The military spokesman’s office said the navy was “prepared to contact” the vessels and had “completed the necessary preparations in order to prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, after routing Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel permits humanitarian aid and supplies to reach the territory through a land crossing, and Gaza also shares a border with Egypt.

An Israeli government official told Reuters earlier that Israel “will take whatever measures will be necessary” to maintain its blockade.

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals on one ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla last year when the activists fought them with clubs and knives as the commandos tried to seize control of the ship to enforce the blockade.

The incident badly damaged ties between Israel and Turkey, which reached a crisis point two months ago when Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel rejected Turkey’s request for an apology for the flotilla deaths.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tim Pearce

Israel to send quake aid to Turkey [UPDATE]

Israel said on Tuesday it was launching an airlift of supplies to help Turkey cope with a devastating earthquake, following a request from Ankara, with a first shipment of prefabricated homes destined for shipment on Wednesday.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Ankara had sought the aid via the Israeli embassy there, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered assistance in a telephone call to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the quake struck on Sunday.

The humanitarian step taken as more than 400 were reported dead in the disaster that struck southeastern Turkey, was seen as possibly easing diplomatic strains between the allies over the incident involving the Gaza-bound flotilla last year.

A spokesman for Israei Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that “tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon a first aircraft will fly from Israel to Turkey with several prefabricated homes,” suggesting the shipment would be followed by others.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Yigal Palmor said Turkey had “relayed a request to the embassy in Ankara for mobile homes” and that Israel was checking into the logistics of shipping these supplies.

“We are checking what we can do, and will do whatever we can,” Palmor said.

In Ankara, a Foreign Ministry official said Turkey had requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.

“We informed all countries who offered help, including Israel, of a request on specific items for post-emergency material, such as prefabricated houses, containers and tents,” the official said.

Israel, geographically close to Turkey, with each country situated on opposite sides of Syria and Lebanon, has sent equipment and rescue teams to Turkey after past earthquakes. Turkey sent fire-fighting planes last December to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc denied on Monday that Ankara had declined an offer of aid from Israel.

Tensions between the two U.S. allies increased last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologise for the Turks killed last year.

Israel said its marines acted in self-defence in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists aboard a vessel bound last year for Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas.

Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy

Turkey IDs Israeli soldiers, commanders in ship’s raid

A list of 174 Israeli soldiers and commanders involved in the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship as it attempted to break the Gaza blockade, was given to Turkish prosecutors.

The list includes the soldiers in the Shayetet 13 commando unit, as well as their commanders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The list was published Monday in the Turkish daily newspaper, Sabah.

It is unclear who drew up the list, which the newspaper said was culled from numerous sources, including Facebook, Sabah reported that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization drew up the list at the request of the state prosecutors office. But the Turkish news service Zaman reported that the state prosecutor denied asking for the list from national intelligence, saying that it received the names from the Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as the IHH, which sponsored the ship and has been identified by Israel as a terrorist organization.

Sabah reported that the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office had requested from Israeli authorities the full names and addresses of the military and government officials involved in the raid on the flotilla, but received no answer.

Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed on May 31, 2010 during an Israeli naval commando raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victi