Turkish court charges senior IDF officials over Gaza flotilla deaths
Turkish judges approve demand for a sentence of a combined 18.000 years for former IDF chief of staff and other officers allegedly responsible for deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara cruise ship in 2010.
A Turkish court on Monday formally pressed charges against members of Israel's military for the killing of nine people aboard a Turkish ship trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza in 2010, Turkey's state-run news agency said.
The court in Istanbul voted unanimously to approve an indictment against Israel's former military chief Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, along with the former heads of its navy, air force intelligence, and military intelligence, Eliezer Marom, Amos Yadlin, and Avishai Levi, the Anadolu Agency said. They face nine consecutive life terms in prison for "inciting to kill monstrously, and by torturing," the agency added.
It is unlikely Israeli military members will be brought before Turkey's judicial system, since Israel does not regard them as criminals. If they are convicted in absentia at the end of the trial process, which could take months if not years, the Turkish court could issue an order for their arrest, but such a move would be symbolic and not binding.
A week ago, the Turkish newspaper “Sabah” first reported the upcoming indictments; however Israeli officials refused to comment on the reports until they were endorsed by the Turkish government, or until the indictments were delivered to the court.
The move comes just a few days ahead of the second anniversary of the May 31 raid. The ship had been part of a flotilla sailing toward Gaza to protest Israel's blockade.
The court also agreed to press charges against several unidentified soldiers who raided the ship, the Turkish news agency said. No trial date has been set. Turkey has tried without success to get Israel to apologize for the attack, and to compensate those killed as a precondition for normalizing relations. Israel has solely expressed regret for the loss of lives.
Israel says its troops opened fire after coming under attack by activists wielding axes, knives and metal rods. It says soldiers rappelled on to the deck armed with non-lethal paintball guns as their primary weapons, and only resorted to using handguns after they were assaulted.
The indictment rejected Israeli claims that Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara acted in self defense, saying that Israeli commandos used disproportional force by firing with heavy weapons and automatic rifles on passengers who only carried "plastic flag masts, spoons, and forks."
The indictment said some of the victims were shot dead from close range and from the back, the agency reported earlier.
According to Turkish news agencies, nine life sentences were demanded - one for each of the casualties aboard the Mavi Marmara – as part of the indictment, which calls for a combined 18,000 years of imprisonment for the four former officers, punishment for crimes committed during the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The indictment includes 490 victims and complainants, among them 189 were injured during the raid.
The charges against members of the Israeli military, included commandeering vehicles, voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, persecution and causing damage to the ship, the agency said Monday.
A United Nations probe into the incident found Israel's naval blockade of Gaza legally imposed "as a legitimate security measure" but added that the killing of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American was "unacceptable."
Turkey has rejected the report's findings, saying Israel had no right to raid the ship in international waters and said it would never recognize the blockade's legitimacy.
Turkey has also slapped a series of sanctions on Israel, once a top military trading partner, which included expelling senior Israeli diplomats and suspending all military deals. It has also vowed to back the Palestinian bid for recognition of their statehood at the United Nations.