Israel in dock at top U.N. rights body for raid

GENEVA (Reuters) - Israel, in the dock at the top United Nations human rights body over its bloody raid on a humanitarian aid flotilla, accused the activists Tuesday of being a “lynch mob” with ties to Islamist Hamas.

But the Jewish state appeared isolated at the U.N. Human Rights Council, where even its closest ally the United States said it expected a credible, transparent investigation into Monday’s attack in which nine activists died.

The 47-member forum held a special three-hour debate at the request of Arab and Islamic states. It was expected to vote on Wednesday on their joint resolution condemning the attack and calling for an independent inquiry.

“The attack on the Israeli soldiers was beyond all doubt premeditated. The weapons used had been prepared in advance,” Israeli Ambassador Aharon Leshno Yaar told the Geneva meeting.

“They were not on a humanitarian mission but one of provocation and incitement. They used knives and clubs and shot two Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces had no choice but to defend themselves,” he said.

Yaar said the Turkish-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), an Islamic charity that organized the convoy, “has publicly professed connections to Egypt’s Islamic Brotherhood and the Hamas, and has been a central actor of fund raising and financing terror for Hamas around the world.”


A 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies written by counter-terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann described the IHH as a front for funding terrorist organizations and sending fighters to countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. The IHH denied the accusations at the time.

Yaar added that Israel was justified under international law in acting against the flotilla.

He accused Gaza’s ruling Hamas of “smuggling arms and military supplies into Gaza by land and sea, in order to fortify its positions and continue its attacks (on Israel).”

He asserted that international law permitted capturing a vessel attempting to breach a naval blockade, even in international waters, as was the case Monday.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning the acts that caused deaths of civilians during the Israeli operation against the flotilla, and called for an impartial investigation.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned Israel’s apparent “highly excessive” use of force and backed a swift, credible and independent investigation.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, called for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza, saying it deprived its 1.5 million civilians of their basic rights to food, water and shelter.

The Palestinians’ ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, denounced Israel’s raid, underlining that it would not help the Middle East peace process.

“We should strongly condemn this criminal act which has once again demonstrated what we have been saying all along, namely that Israel believes it is above the law,” he said.

Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu called the attack, in which four Turkish nationals were killed, “unjustified and a grave breach of international law.”

The Human Rights Council has long been accused of singling out Israel while going easy on other rights abusers, eroding the influence of its past resolutions which have condemned Israel’s actions in occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.

Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Mark Heinrich