Israeli army chief says more force next time 11Aug10 August 12, 2010

Palestine Note -  11 August 2010

The chief of staff of Israel’s military told investigators on Wednesday that his forces should have been more forceful during their deadly takeover of a ship carrying aid to the besieged Gaza Strip on May 31.

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was speaking to an internal Israeli commission investigating the attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, where Israeli commandos killed nine passengers in international waters. The Mavi Marmara was part of the “Freedom Flotilla” that planned to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

AP has this report:

Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said the military should have used more force to subdue pro-Palestinian activists before soldiers boarded the vessel.

Ashkenazi told an official Israeli inquiry into the raid that commandos used stun grenades to clear the area before rappelling from helicopters onto the ship, which was trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Activists beat the troops with clubs and metal rods, stabbed them with knives and even fired shots. With their lives in danger, the soldiers responded with gunfire and killed nine Turkish activists, Ashkenazi said.

“We should have ensured sterile conditions in order to dispatch the forces in a minimum amount of time,” Ashkenazi testified. “It would have lowered the risk to our soldiers but it would not have prevented the tension … once the decision was made to stop the ship, the conflict was inevitable.”

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Ashkenazi also said that in future situations, the army should use snipers to protect Israeli soldiers. “If the IDF has to deal with a similar scenario in future, there will be no option but to employ snipers to protect the lives of troops,” he was quoted as saying.

Israeli soldiers rappelled onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara from helicopters before dawn on May 31. Video footage showed that passengers attempted to fend off the soldiers with metal rods and other makeshift weapons.

Israeli soldiers shot dead nine Turkish men during the raid – among them a US citizen – shooting many of them at close range in the head and chest, according to autopsies. Several Israeli soldiers were also wounded.

The raid on the Gaza flotilla sparked international outcry both over the attack and Israel’s crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Ashkenazi was testifying before an Israeli panel led by retired chief justice Jacob Turkel. In testimony on Monday and Tuesday respectively, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to lay blame on the Israeli military.

The Turkel commission is separate from two United Nations investigations into the raid. On Tuesday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that a panel he appointed would not assign individual responsibility for the attack. The panel, led by outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, is expected to present its first progress report in September.

Another fact finding mission backed by the UN Human Rights Council is also investigating the matter.

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