Rights groups slam findings of Gaza flotilla probe

JERUSALEM- Rights groups here on Sunday lambasted an Israeli probe that concluded the Jewish state's troops acted lawfully during a bloody May 2010 raid on Gaza-bound aid ships.
The six-man panel investigating the incident, which left nine Turkish activists dead, also said Israel's naval blockade on the coastal enclave was legal under international law.

"They are morally and legally blind," said Ran Yaron, of Physicians for Human Rights.
"Their understanding twists reality, is sinful to truth, and is an immoral and inhuman analysis of the data that was presented to them by the different human rights organisations."
Gisha, an Israeli group that lobbies for freedom of movement for Palestinians, rejected the commission's finding that the blockade did not constitute illegal punishment of Gaza's civilians.
"No commission of inquiry can authorise the collective punishment of a civilian population by restricting its movement and access, as Israel did in its closure of Gaza, of which the maritime closure was an integral part," the group said in a statement.
"Gisha notes that a primary goal of the restrictions, as declared by Israel, was to paralyse the economy in Gaza and prevent its residents from leading normal lives," it continued. "International law forbids using civilians to advance 'strategic' goals."
Israel imposed a land and naval blockade on Gaza in 2006, after the kidnap of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held in the coastal enclave.
It tightened the restrictions a year later, when the Islamist movement Hamas seized power in the impoverished Palestinian territory of 1.5 million people, ousting its Fatah secular rivals.
Hamas dismissed the inquiry's report as a "coverup."
"It is a desperate attempt to justify the repeated failures of the Zionist army and to legitimise the crimes of the occupation," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told AFP.
Hanan Zoabi, an Israeli Arab MP who was on the flotilla's lead ship during the raid, said the findings were unlikely to overcome world criticism of the events.
The "commission was clearly selective in its choice of judges, international observers and the questions that it posed, as well as in the witnesses whom it summoned to testify before it," she said.
But the commission, which included two international observers, won praise from Israeli politicians.
"Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the conclusions of the Tirkel Commission report prove that Israel is a law-abiding country which knows how to examine itself and respects the norms and procedures of the international system," a statement issued by his office said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman said the panel's conclusions were "clear."
"Israel acted in justifiable self defence... Missiles that are smuggled into Gaza today will be fired at Israeli civilians tomorrow."

Monday, January 24th 2011

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