The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary probe into Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010, the prosecutor's office said Tuesday.
"My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met," Fatou Bensouda said in a statement issued from the court based in The Hague.
Nine Turkish nationals were killed when Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a six-ship flotilla seeking to bust Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip on May 31, 2010.
Bensouda said she had met Istanbul-based lawyers who are acting for the government of the Comoros, which referred the case to her office.
The ship on which the activists sailed was registered in the Indian Ocean island country, which has been a state party to the ICC since 2006.
"After careful analysis of all available information, I shall make a determination that will be made public in due course," Bensouda said.
Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006 after militants there seized an Israeli soldier, who was eventually freed in 2011 in a trade for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The blockade was strengthened in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza, then eased somewhat following an international outcry over the killing of the Turkish activists.
The maritime assault severely wrecked relations between the former regional allies, with Ankara demanding a formal apology and compensation for the families of the raid victims, as well as the lifting of the blockade.
Bensouda's office receive numerous requests every year for probes into alleged crimes like genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
According to the Rome Statute, the court's founding document, prosecutors may now gather initial information about the case.
If Bensouda believes she had enough evidence, she may then approach judges for the go-ahead to open a full investigation which could lead to a future trial.
Prosecutors are also busy with initial probes in several other countries like Afghanistan, Colombia and Nigeria, but so far no decision whether to ask judges for permission to open full investigations had been made following these investigations.
Established in 2002, the ICC is the world's only permanent independent tribunal, set up to try the world's worst crimes.