THE HAGUE, May 15 – The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary probe into Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 in which nine Turkish activists died to see if war crimes or crimes against humanity had been committed, the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday.
“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Fatou Bensouda said in a statement issued from the court based in The Hague.
Nine Turkish nationals died when Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a six-ship flotilla seeking to bust Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip on May 31, 2010.
Bensouda said she had met Istanbul-based lawyers who are acting for the government of the Comoros, which referred the case to her office.
The ship on which the activists sailed, the MV Mavi Marmara was registered in the Indian Ocean island country, which has been a state party to the ICC since 2006.
“After careful analysis of all available information, I shall make a determination that will be made public in due course,” Bensouda said.
Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006 after militants there seized an Israeli soldier, who was eventually freed in 2011 in a trade for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The blockade was strengthened in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza, then eased somewhat following an international outcry over the killing of the Turkish activists.
Lawyers in their 17-page submission said the attack on the flotilla had “serious international repercussions” and that the ICC was seen as an institution to “provide a remedy for redress”.
They added that the actions of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) “were manifestations of a plan or policy to use violence to dissuade the humanitarian flotillas to directly reach a blockaded Gaza”.
“The IDF attack on the flotilla — charged with bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza resulted in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity falling within the ambit of the ICC’s… jurisdiction,” the lawyers said.
The maritime assault also severely wrecked relations between former regional allies Israel and Turkey, with Ankara demanding a formal apology and compensation for the families of the raid victims, as well as the lifting of the blockade.
Compensation talks finally began in late March, after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey to get the rocky relations back on track.
Bensouda’s office receive numerous requests every year for probes into alleged crimes like genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
According to the Rome Statute, the court’s founding document, prosecutors may now gather initial information about the case.
If Bensouda believes she has enough evidence, she may then give the go-ahead for a full investigation which could lead to a future trial.
Prosecutors are also busy with initial probes in several other countries like Afghanistan, Colombia and Nigeria, but so far no decision to open full investigations have been made.
Established in 2002, the ICC is the world’s only permanent independent tribunal, set up to try the world’s worst crimes.