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Israel Flotilla Raid: Turkey Charges Israeli Military Chiefs

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ISRAEL FLOTILLA RAID
An Israeli navy vessel enters the southern port of Ashdod after intercepting the French yacht Dignite/Al Karama carrying pro-Palestinian activists in international waters as it tried to reach Gaza in defiance of Israel's naval blockade on the tiny Palestinian territory on July 19, 2011. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images) | Getty Images

ANKARA, Turkey -- A Turkish court on Monday formally pressed charges against members of Israel's military for the killing of nine people aboard a Turkish ship trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza in 2010, Turkey's state-run news agency said.

The court in Istanbul voted unanimously to approve an indictment against Israel's former military chief Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, along with the heads of its navy, air force and military intelligence, the Anadolu Agency said. They face nine consecutive life terms in prison for "inciting to kill monstrously, and by torturing," the agency added.

It is unlikely Israeli military members will be brought before Turkey's judicial system, since Israel does not regard them as criminals. If they are convicted in absentia at the end of the trial process, which could take months if not years, the Turkish court could issue an order for their arrest, but such a move would be symbolic and not binding.

Israeli officials had no immediate comment.

The move comes just a few days ahead of the second anniversary of the May 31 raid. The ship had been part of a flotilla sailing toward Gaza to protest Israel's blockade.

The court also agreed to press charges against several unidentified soldiers who raided the ship, the agency said. No trial date has been set.

Turkey has tried without success to get Israel to apologize for the attack, and to compensate those killed as a precondition for normalizing relations. Israel has solely expressed regret for the loss of lives.

Israel says its troops opened fire after coming under attack by activists wielding axes, knives and metal rods. It says soldiers rappelled on to the deck armed with non-lethal paintball guns as their primary weapons, and only resorted to using handguns after they were assaulted.

The indictment, however, claimed that members of the military deliberately opened fire with the intention to kill – actions, it said, that cannot be considered acts of self-defense since the passengers were only armed with sticks, spoons and forks.

It said some of the victims were shot dead from close range and from the back, the agency reported earlier.

The charges against members of the Israeli military, included commandeering vehicles, voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, persecution and causing damage to the ship, the agency said Monday.

A United Nations probe into the incident found Israel's naval blockade of Gaza legally imposed "as a legitimate security measure" but added that the killing of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American was "unacceptable."

Turkey has rejected the report's findings, saying Israel had no right to raid the ship in international waters and said it would never recognize the blockade's legitimacy.

Turkey has also slapped a series of sanctions on Israel – once a top military trading partner – that included expelling senior Israeli diplomats and suspending all military deals. It has also vowed to back the Palestinian bid for recognition of their statehood at the United Nations.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized control of the coastal territory from their Fatah rivals in 2007. Israel allows humanitarian aid and goods into Gaza via land crossings after inspection for weapons.

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