International court to look into Israel’s 2010 Gaza flotilla raid


The International Criminal Court prosecutor said she would open a preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement Tuesday that she was obliged to open a preliminary examination following a referral from the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, where one of the vessels that were raided was registered, Reuters reported.

Few preliminary examinations ever lead to a full investigation, let alone a trial. Activists have repeatedly attempted to involve the court in The Hague in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it has so far declined to investigate events in the Palestinian territories.

The raid, in which Israeli special forces rappelled down onto the ships of activists who were seeking to break an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, caused a breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel.

“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Bensouda said.

The referral from the Comoros was relayed to the ICC by a Turkish law firm, Elmadag, according to Reuters.

The United States has been promoting a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, two of its allies. Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any error that may have led to loss of life” and talks have begun on compensation.

Israel, Hamas teams in Cairo for more truce talks


Egyptian mediators began separate talks on Monday with Hamas and with Israel to flesh out details of a ceasefire agreed last week that ended eight days of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

An Egyptian official told Reuters the talks would discuss Palestinian demands for the opening of more Israeli crossings into Gaza – a move that would help end six years of blockade of the coastal enclave ruled by the Islamist Hamas.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire came into force last Wednesday, ending hostilities between the two sides that cost the lives of 167 Palestinians and six Israelis.

However, the text of the truce stipulated that issues such as access to the borders, free movement for Gazans and the transfer of goods would be dealt with “after 24 hours.”

Israel imposed restrictions on Gaza in 2006, following an election victory by Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. The curbs were tightened, and backed by Egypt, after Hamas seized control of the enclave in a civil war.

Some of the import and export limits have since been eased, but Israel still prevents a long list of goods into the territory – including many items needed for construction – arguing they could be used for the manufacture of weapons.

Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar told reporters on Saturday that the group wanted to see the opening of all four goods crossings with Israel that used to operate before 2006.

Only one operates at present, with a second passenger terminal reserved for the handful of Palestinians and foreigners who are allowed in and out of the territory.

The Egyptian official said Cairo would also urge both sides to cement their commitments to the ceasefire agreement.

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man on Friday after he approached the Gazan “no-go” border area, apparently in the belief that under the terms of the ceasefire deal he was unable to go up to the heavily patrolled fence.

Alarmed by the prospect of the truce failing, Egypt encouraged Hamas police to be deployed along the border line to keep Gazans away and prevent further violence.

A day later Israeli troops avoided interfering when Gaza farmers neared the fence to tend to their land, and Israel also eased its restrictions at sea, permitting Gaza fishermen to head farther away from the coast than in the past three years.

Israel launched its air offensive against the Gaza Strip on November 14 with the declared aim of deterring Islamist militants from firing rockets into its territory.

The Israeli military also says its soldiers have come under increasing attack from the border area this year, including earlier this month when a jeep was hit by an anti-tank missile.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an Austrian newspaper in remarks due for publication on Tuesday that “the most important thing right now is ensuring that there are no illegal deliveries of rockets and weapons to Hamas” and “free access and freedom of movement in Gaza”.

Ban thought the Gaza crisis also showed “the status quo is no option” and urged a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled since 2010, though Hamas has had no role in those negotiations as it rejects any recognition of Israel.

Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Additional reporting by Michael Shields, in Vienna; Editing by Alison Williams

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 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.

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