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Israel probe on flotilla raid due Sunday

Jan. 20, 2011 2:12 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 20, 2011 7:59 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- An Israeli commission investigating last May's deadly raid on aid ships trying to break a blockade on the Gaza Strip will release its first report on Sunday, an official source said.

The Israeli naval raid killed eight Turkish citizens and one dual Turkish-US national, prompting an international outcry and throwing relations between Israel and Ankara into a deep crisis.

An Israeli military inquiry already released its findings in early June. The investigation said the Israeli commandos who boarded the ships via helicopter and killed nine passengers acted without negligence. Several were awarded military honors.

The military investigation said the deaths were "due to mistakes made at the relatively top levels that caused the results to be different from what was planned."

A UN-mandated investigation released its report at the end of September and called the incident a violation of international law.

Israel's Foreign Ministry responded shortly after the 56-page report was released, saying its authors had adopted a "biased, politicized and extremist approach."

The four-member UN committee, approved in June in an emergency session of the UN, was charged with conducting an investigation into possible "violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, resulting from the interception by Israeli forces of the humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza on 31 May 2010."

Israel decided in July to launch its own civilian inquiry into the incident, though it has publicly defended its actions, accusing activists on board the boats of carrying weapons and attacking its troops when they boarded.

"The commission will publicly deliver on Sunday the first part of the report, which will cover in particular the legality of the maritime blockade of Gaza as well as the action of the Israeli military and the flotilla's passengers," a spokesman for the commission, Ofer Lefter said.

The inquiry commission, headed by former judge Yaakov Tirkel, is examining several aspects of the raid, which occurred on May 31 as a group of aid ships led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara sailed to the Gaza Strip.

Israel imposed a blockade on the coastal enclave on the Gaza Strip in June 2006 after militants there kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held there.

It was tightened a year later when Hamas seized power in the territory of 1.5 million people, ousting its Fatah rivals.

The commission has heard testimony from high-ranking Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and army chief General Gaby Ashkenazi.

None of the soldiers who actually participated in the raid have been authorized to provide their testimony.

Ma'an staff writers contributed to this report
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