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World

Israeli defense chief tells panel aid flotilla was a 'provocation'

Israel's defense minister has told a investigation into a deadly raid on an aid convoy to Gaza that the flotilla was a "planned provocation." The comments follow a stern defense of the raid by Israel's prime minister.

The Mavi Marmara ship, aboard which Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla took place

Skirmishes erupted on board the Mavi Marmara ship

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has told a special Israeli commission that a Gaza-bound aid flotilla seized in a bloody commando raid in May was a "planned provocation" and that Israel had expected a violent dispute weeks in advance.

Barak said during discussions going back to April "the image that emerged... was that the organizations [behind the flotilla] were preparing for armed conflict to embarrass Israel."

The former prime minister was the second of three top officials to give sworn testimony before an Israeli investigative panel established to examine the legality of the raid that left nine Turkish activists dead.

"We regret any loss of life," Barak told the panel. "But we would have lost more lives if we had behaved differently."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Barak essentially blamed the deaths on the convoy's organizers

Skirmished erupted on the flotilla vessels on May 31 after Israeli commandos rappelled aboard in an attempt to stop the ships from breaking a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Activists on board the ships say the troops began firing immediately, whereas military personnel say they were retaliating after being attacked after boarding.

In 'accordance with the law'

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu testified that Israel had done nothing wrong.

"I am convinced that at the end of your investigation, it will become clear that the state of Israel and the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acted in accordance with international law," Netanyahu told members of the Tirkel Commission as he began testifying about the raid on Monday.

The bloodshed was a huge blow to diplomatic relations with Turkey and drew sharp rebukes from the international community over the severity of the response to the flotilla by Israeli forces.

The UN has launched a separate probe into the matter, but Israel has made it clear it will not allow the troops involved to be questioned.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP/AP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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