Turkey to try Israeli top brass in deadly flotilla raid

AFP , Monday 5 Nov 2012

Turkish court to try four high-ranking Israeli military officials involved in 2010 raid on Gaza flotilla; prosecutors call for life sentences

An Istanbul court is set to begin Tuesday the trial of four top Israeli commanders Turkey blames for a deadly 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound ship, a case likely to rekindle tensions between former allies Turkey and Israel.

Tuesday's hearing comes months after the court approved an indictment by prosecutors, who are seeking life sentences for the top Israeli officials in the deadly maritime assault.

The accused are all but certain not to attend the trial, after Israel ruled that those who took part in the raid did nothing wrong.

One of the five plaintiff lawyers, Buhari Cetinkaya, told AFP that prosecutors had looked up the chain of command after failing to identify all the troops who actually carried out the raid.

"We had identified some of the Israeli commandos involved in the raid but I think the prosecutor was not able to verify from the Israeli side," Cetinkaya said.

"So the case landed on the four Israeli commanders, as the decision passed down through a mechanism headed by these people," the lawyer added.

The accused officials are: Former military chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi, former Navy chief Eliezer Marom, former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin and former Air Force intelligence chief Avishai Levy.

Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla aimed at breaking Israel's Gaza blockade, on May 31, 2010, leaving nine Turkish activists dead.

Last year, an Israeli probe ruled the raid did not violate international law, in a finding that Turkey said lacked credibility.

A United Nations report in September 2011 found Israel had used "excessive" force in the raid, but also said Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legal and that the flotilla organisers had acted "recklessly" in attempting the mission.

The raid triggered a crisis between Israel and Turkey, once regional allies, and resulted in a dramatic downgrade in diplomatic relations and expelling of the Israeli ambassador from Turkey. Military ties were also cut.

In May, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said he was expecting foreign diplomatic pressure on Turkey to stop the trial that could have "wide-ranging implications for NATO and US forces," which frequently board ships suspected of terror activity.

Last month, Israeli troops boarded a Finnish-flagged ship after it tried to breach Israel's tight maritime embargo on Gaza, which prohibits all naval traffic in and out of the coastal territory.

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