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Israel's Netanyahu Defends Deadly Raid on Gaza Aid Flotilla

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu testified before a state inquiry commission and defended Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla in late May.  He was the first witness in a probe examining the government's decision to send naval commandos to intercept six ships trying to break Israel's three-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The commandos encountered violent resistance, and nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.  Israel established the commission in an attempt to appease international outrage about the incident.

But despite allegations of excessive use of force, Mr. Netanyahu praised Israeli troops for what he described as "remarkable courage."  His spokesman Mark Regev said, "Let's be clear here.  Everything that we know indicates that, first of all, our interception was perfectly legal.  Our naval servicemen were acting in self-defense."

The Gaza-bound flotilla was in international waters when Israeli commandos raided it.

Mr. Netanyahu accused Turkey, which unofficially sponsored the flotilla, of ignoring Israel's diplomatic efforts to avoid a clash on the high seas.  He said Turkey was apparently not interested in restraining activists who attacked the commandos with clubs and knives.

Regev says it was a provocation, plain and simple. "The violence was initiated by those hardcore Turkish activists who came here looking for a fight.  They got that fight.  They initiated the violence; they are responsible for the violence."

Eight of the activists killed were Turkish citizens and one was Turkish-American. Since the incident, the once-warm ties between Israel and Turkey have chilled.  Turkey has joined other Muslim countries in demanding that Israel lift the blockade on Gaza.

Israel has responded to international pressure by easing the land blockade.  But Prime Minister Netanyahu said the naval blockade will remain in force to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

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