|Ashkenazi has barred other senior Israeli officers from appearing before the Turkel Committee [EPA]|
Israel’s military chief has testified for a second time before the Turkel Committee investigating the Gaza flotilla raid of May 31, which killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.
Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff, was called on by the Turkel Committee to testify again on Sunday after he refused to allow other senior Israeli officers to appear before the panel.
He said he did not want to expose them to the risks their testimony could create for them.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said Ashkenazi “spent most of the morning defending and justifying the actions of his soldiers on board the Mavi [Marmara]”, the lead vessel.
The attack on the six-ship flotilla, with 10,000 tonnes of aid, happened in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.
The Gaza Strip, whose residents suffer extreme shortages of basic commodities, has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007, when the Palestinian group Hamas gained control of the enclave after a brief power struggle with its rival, Fatah.
Our correspondent quoted the army chief as saying he acted proportionately given the threat.
“They [soldiers] didn’t hurt those who didn’t need to be hurt,” she quoted Ashkenazi as saying.
“He also was talking about the fact that the soldiers – as he sees it and as he commanded – didn’t open fire immediately when they landed on deck.”
But Tadros said Ashkenazi’s testimony contradicted “hundreds of testimonies from journalists and activists” who were on board the Mavi Marmara when the attack happened.
Ashkenazi has previously defended his troops’ use of lethal fire and Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, says the raid on the flotillla complied with international law.
He said the second soldier to land opened fire after being shot in the stomach.
“He simply pulled out his gun and shot the shooter,” Ashkenazi said.
No guns were found aboard the Mavi Marmara but the Israeli military has previously said that activists seized at least one firearm from the soldiers during the clashes and that it found evidence of a gun not used by Israeli soldiers.
Ashkenazi rejects charges by Turkish authorities that some of the dead had been shot “execution-style” at point-blank range, saying that shots had been fired at close range as part of a life-or-death struggle.
The United Nations set up the inquiry panel in August, appointing Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand, and Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s former president, to chair it.
The panel, with which Israel has promised to co-operate, also includes one Israeli and one Turk.