Israeli ex-military commanders go on trial in absentia in Turkey

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Turkish court began a trial in absentia for four Israeli military commanders responsible for the raid on the Mavi Marmara ship.

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Nine Turkish citizens died when Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010, boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.

The court case against former Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as former Navy Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom, former Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin and Israel Air Force Brig.-Gen. Avishai Levi, opened in Istanbul on Tuesday.  The charges reportedly include manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, causing bodily harm, deprivation of freedom, plundering, damage to property and illegal confiscation of property.

The men could be sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

Some 490 people who were aboard the ship during the raid, including activists and journalists, are scheduled to testify. The trial reportedly will be officially recorded by television cameras, although not immediately broadcast.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to be illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have severed diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

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