3 Sep 2011

UN says blockade legal, but excessive force used

1:45 pm on 3 September 2011

A long-awaited United Nations report on an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship says Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, but that the Jewish state used unreasonable force.

Nine Turkish humanitarian workers were killed on 31 May last year during a raid on the Mavi Marama, the largest in a flotilla of six ships that the crew said were delivering aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

The report prepared by a panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer was leaked to the New York Times on Thursday.

It was due to be issued on Friday, its release having been delayed repeatedly to allow for Israeli-Turkish rapprochement talks.

The report said though Israeli commandos faced "organised and violent resistance from a group of passengers" in the incident, the amount of force used by the Israelis on board the Mavi Marmara was "excessive and unreasonable."

It says the loss of life was unacceptable and that the Israeli military's later treatment of passengers was abusive.

The report says Israel's blockade of Gaza is legal and appropriate because it was aimed at preventing the import of weapons by sea, but the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the blockade.

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.

Turkey has demanded that Israel apologise for the raid, but the Israeli government has made clear it will not issue a formal apology.

Palmer declining to comment

Sir Geoffrey says he will not comment on the report even after it is officially released, and is referring all questions to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

But a New Zealand Gaza support group, Kia Ora Gaza, says it is not happy with the report. Leader Roger Fowler disputes several of its findings, including the legitimacy of the Israeli blockade, and says the UN has kowtowed to Israel.

Kia Ora will join another Gaza aid convoy in December this year.