News / Middle East

Israeli Army Chief Testifies Before Flotilla Panel

Israel's army chief says Israeli military forces underestimated the threat of violence when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists.

Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff General Gabi Ashkenazi testified Wednesday before an Israeli panel investigating the May 31 incident.

Ashkenazi said the military should have used more force to subdue the activists before boarding the vessel.  He said commandos used stun grenades to clear the area before rappelling from helicopters onto the ship, but once on board, the soldiers were met by activists with metal rods and knives.

He said troops only responded with gunfire because their lives were in danger.  He said one soldier fired when a Turkish man attacked him with an ax.

The general's testimony followed that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier this week.

Ashkenazi also rejected Turkish charges that some of the dead had been shot at point-blank range "execution style," saying that shots were fired in close quarters as part of a life or death struggle.  

In his testimony Tuesday, Barak said the aid flotilla was a "planned provocation."  The defense minister told the panel the decision to stop the flotilla was made only after senior officials examined other options.

The raid drew widespread international criticism and pushed Israel to loosen its restrictions on Gaza.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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