Gaza flotilla was ‘Turkish provocation’, Livni tells inquiry 25Oct10 October 26, 2010

by Barak Ravid  -  Haaretz -  25 October 2010

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni testified before a commission probing Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy in May, telling the panel that Turkey had exploited the event as a provocation against Israel.

“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 commission, headed by former Supreme Court Judge Jacob Turkel.

Nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli naval commandos stormed the decks of the ‘Mavi Marmara’, the lead ship in the six-boat flotilla, at dawn on May 31. 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, imposed in 2007 when Hamas militants seized power from rival Palestinian faction Fatah in a bloody coup, at a time when Livni was foreign minister.

The embargo prevented Gazans from acquiring building materials, such as steel and cement, which Israel feared would be used for fortifications and weapons – but also deprived them of foodstuffs including snacks, spices and even ketchup, as well as kitchen utensils and toys.

Livni told the commission that many of the prohibitions, eventually eased in response to a wave of international protest after the flotilla raid, had been too harsh. But she denied responsibility for imposing them.

“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 ministry and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories who made the decisions.”

On Sunday Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified to the commission for a second time, insisting the killings aboard the Mavi Marmara had been unavoidable.

Ashkenazi said Israeli commandos had fired 308 live bullets aboard the ship to repel passengers who attacked them with lethal weapons, including a snatched Uzi machine pistol.

Ashkenazi told the panel commission that navy commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara were equipped with riot-dispersal gear, but quickly switched to live fire to confront armed passengers because “if they had not done this, there would have been more casualties”.

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