Turkish Inquiry Says Israel Used Excessive Force

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - A Turkish committee investigating Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla has refuted Israeli claims that its soldiers acted in self-defense, saying at least two activists were killed before commandos boarded the ship and another died "execution-style" as he lay injured.

Turkey released details of its formal inquiry of the May 31 incident Friday, hours after submitting the report to a U.N. panel investigating the incident. Eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara.

Israel has insisted its soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists on board. An Israeli inquiry into the raid last month cleared the military and government of any wrongdoing and said the armed defense of Israel's maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip was justified under international law.

The Turkish inquiry report - a summary of which was released to journalists Friday - concluded that Israeli soldiers used "excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate" force on unarmed civilians. It said the raid was a blatant violation of international laws.

"The force used was not justified, it was excessive," committee member Mithat Rende, a Foreign Ministry official, told reporters.

The report said Israeli soldiers fired live bullets from helicopters, killing two of the activists, even before they had rappelled on board. Five of the victims were killed from close range, it added.

Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old Turkish-American, was lying wounded after being shot in the leg when he was kicked by two soldiers, who then shot him from close range "execution-style," according to the summary.

Another activist, Cevdet Kiliclar, was killed with laser-guided weapons while taking photographs, the report said.

The commando raid sparked condemnation worldwide and led to an easing of Israel's blockade on the coastal territory. It further damaged already strained relations with Turkey, formerly one of Israel's closest allies in the region. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and is demanding an apology and compensation for the victims before it says ties can return to normal.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he could not comment on the Turkish findings because he had not seen the report.

Palmor said Israel had submitted its own report to the U.N. and was waiting to hear "what lessons could be learned so this doesn't happen again."

Rende said Turkish investigators questioned more than 100 "Turkish and foreign" activists who were aboard the flotilla while compiling the report, and also sought the opinions of international legal experts.

"Israel violated laws regarding the safety of navigation in open waters and the freedom to navigate," Rende said, adding that the blockade of Gaza amounted to illegal "collective punishment" of 1.5 million people.

"Israel is responsible for the compensation of all damages and has to apologize," he said.

The report said none of the people on board had firearms and that Israeli soldiers continued to fire even after activists waved white flags.

"The Israeli forces carried out a well-planned and fully equipped attack, with the use of a special combat unit, kitted with frigates, helicopters, zodiacs, submarines, automatic weapons, laser-guided weapons, and modified paintball guns," the Turkish inquiry said.

Rende said the excessive force caused panic among the activists, "forcing them to use their right to self-defense, even without firearms."

In its Jan. 23 report, Israel said its forces had not been expecting trouble and their primary weapons were paintball guns and riot control gear but that some of the soldiers had handguns as backup.

It said soldiers were caught offguard by the dozens of activists when they rappelled one-by-one onto the deck as the activists were waiting, wielding iron bars, clubs and knives. Some soldiers were thrown onto a lower deck and two of them were shot, apparently with weapons wrested from the Israelis and by another gun of a different caliber to that used by the army.

The report said the Israelis only opened fire when their lives were in clear and immediate danger from the activists and after they had tried other non lethal means.

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AP writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects "lead" to "led" in the 9th paragraph.)

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