U.N. panel faults both sides in Gaza flotilla clash

Thu Sep 1, 2011 11:44pm GMT

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A long-awaited U.N. report on an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks declares that Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, but that the Jewish state used unreasonable force.

The report, made public on Thursday, said Israeli commandos faced "organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers" in the incident last year.

But in criticism of Israel, it said the amount of force used by the Israelis on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest in a flotilla of six ships that the crew said were delivering aid to Palestinians in Gaza, was "excessive and unreasonable."

In comments that considerably weakened the force of the report, the Israeli and Turkish members of the four-man panel that wrote it said they disagreed with key findings. The Turkish panelist dissociated himself from some conclusions.

Israel calls its Gaza blockade a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea. Palestinians and their supporters say the blockade is illegal collective punishment, a view some U.N. officials have echoed.

The report, prepared by a panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, is expected to be formally handed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday and was due to be released then. But the New York Times posted on its website on Thursday a copy it had obtained.

The report's release was delayed repeatedly to allow for ultimately fruitless rapprochement talks between Israel and Turkey, whose relations were badly affected by the incident on May 31 last year.

The United States has been concerned about the rift between two countries that had been strategic partners in an increasingly stormy Middle East.   Continued...

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