Tzipi Livni testifying, Daniel Bar-On, Oct. 25, 2010
Tzipi Livni testifying on Oct. 25, 2010 before the Turkel Committee. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Many of the prohibitions Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip were overly harsh, opposition leader Tzipi Livni yesterday told the Turkel Committee probing Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May.

Livni said the Defense Ministry was responsible for banning numerous food products from entering Gaza, such as pasta, coriander, spices and even ketchup.

"I thought [at the time] that drawing a distinction between different types of food, some of which would be allowed in and some of which not, was unnecessary," Livni said. "I thought the ban on spaghetti excessive, but it was the defense minister and the coordinator of government activities in the territories who made the decisions."

She was referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Coordinator of Government Activities Amos Gilad, who in the last months of Olmert's government, insisted on a rigorous blockade. Their refusal to allow pasta into Gaza prompted a wave of international protest, and the United States demanded lifting the ban on all food items immediately.

Livni, who asked to testify before the panel, served as foreign minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet at the time the blockade was imposed in 2007. She said the flotilla incident could have been avoided or received less resonance had the peace process been continued by Netanyahu's government.

"In the absence of a peace process, with Israel's policies toward the Palestinians unclear, Turkey was able to fill a political vacuum by engineering provocations," Livni told the committee, headed by former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel.

"When there was a peace process we could tell the Turks such acts would harm the process, and then they really cooperated. Without a peace process the Israeli argument was weaker," she said.

Nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli naval commandos stormed the decks of the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the six-boat flotilla, earlier this year. The raid plunged relations between Israel and Turkey, traditionally close military allies, into crisis.

The boats had been trying to break Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip.