Monday, January 24, 2011

Turkey slams Israeli flotilla report, issues own

Turkey released details on Monday of its own report into the bloody seizure of a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, a day after Israel published contradictory findings that reignited a furious dispute between the two.

Nine Turks were shot dead in the clash on May 31 last year when Israeli marines stormed a flotilla organized by a Turkish Islamist charity, which ignored orders to turn back as it tried to breach an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkey's report said two of the activists killed on the vessel, the Mavi Marmara, were shot from a military helicopter.

"The Israeli soldiers shot from the helicopter onto the Mavi Marmara using live ammunition and killing two passengers before any Israeli soldier descended on the deck," said the report, published by state-run news agency Anatolian.

"During the attack, excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate force was used by the Israeli soldiers against the civilians on board," it said.

Israel's Turkel Commission, whose report will form the core of Israel's submission to a U.N. investigation, cleared the Israeli government and military of wrongdoing and said the operation was legal and justified overall, to Ankara's outrage.

It concluded that the Israeli army did not fire any rounds from the helicopter and marines resorted to guns only after their "less lethal" primary weapons failed to drive back passengers who attacked them as they boarded the ferry.

Turkey responded by publishing for the first time details of its report submitted last September to the U.N. investigation.

"We expected the report to say that mistakes were made and disproportionate force was used, but instead the report's attitude almost renders the Israeli soldiers heroes," a Turkish foreign ministry official told reporters.

The report said Israeli forces had terrorized passengers, abusing them physically and psychologically. It said some passengers were strip-searched and sexually humiliated.

"Israel washed the corpses to avoid further examination of the bodies. They painted over bullet holes on the ship. Why would you try to distort or spoil the evidence if you did not feel guilty?" the Turkish foreign ministry official said.

APOLOGY SOUGHT

Turkish autopsies found that the nine men had been shot with 9mm bullets, short-range ammunition, though one also suffered a brain injury from a projectile that may have been from so-called "bean-bag" shotgun ammunition.

Both reports delivered contradictory conclusions on the methods used to intercept the flotilla.

"Israel could have tied a rope around the ship's propeller to make it stop, without firing bullets, or it could have used water on activists. It could have blocked the route with its own ships," the Turkish official said.

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