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UN Panel Says Israel Use of Force 'Excessive' in Gaza Flotilla Raid

Thousands of pro-Palestinian activists and demonstrators they march towards the Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, May 30, 2011 as they marked the first anniversary of a deadly raid by Israel on a Turkish aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip.

A long-awaited U.N. panel report on the Israeli raid of a Turkish aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip was leaked Thursday by the New York Times. In it, the panel found that Israel used excessive and unreasonable force during its raid of the Mavi Marmara last year, but concluded that the naval blockade of Gaza is legal under international law.

The New York Times posted a copy of the 105-page confidential report on its website ahead of its expected release Friday.

The panel, headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, as well as member from both Turkey and Israel, found that Israeli commandos who boarded the Turkish flagged vessel Mavi Marmara in international waters on May 31, 2010, “without warning or consent” used “substantial force” against the activists on board.

The panel says the action of the Israeli commandos “seems to us to have been too heavy a response too quickly” and “it was an excessive reaction to the situation.” They conclude that “the operation should have been better planned and differently executed.”

The flotilla of six ships carrying 600 pro-Palestinian activists set out to break Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza and deliver medical, educational and construction materials to the Palestinian territory. But the mission turned deadly when Israeli commandos boarded the main ship and nine passengers were killed in the ensuing chaos. The report notes that seven of the dead suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

The Palmer panel found that Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip does not violate international law and that its forces had the right to stop the ships in international waters in order to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.

Turkey had argued that the naval blockade was illegal and that Israel had no right to stop the ships in international waters.

U.N. Deputy Spokesman Eduardo del Buey said he could not comment on a leaked report and added that the Secretary-General has yet to receive or read the document. The Israeli U.N. mission said it had no immediate comment, while a call to the Turkish U.N. mission was not immediately returned.

Relations between Israel and Turkey, once very close, became very strained over the incident, with Ankara recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv.

The two countries have been negotiating about some type of apology from Israel and over compensation for the victims, but have been unable to agree. The U.N. panel did recommend that Israel should express regret and compensate the victims.