Kerry Voices Sympathy for Families of Activists Killed in Gaza Flotilla Clash

By Patrick Goodenough | April 8, 2013 | 5:01 AM EDT

A U.N. report called Israel’s raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara “excessive” but also described the flotilla organizers’ deliberate attempt to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza as “dangerous and reckless.” (Photo: IHH)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday expressed sympathy for the families of nine Turkish activists killed during violent clashes with Israeli commandos who raided a ship trying to break the security blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Speaking in Istanbul, Kerry commented on a recent U.S.-mediated deal aimed at ending a diplomatic rift between Israel and Turkey, whose Islamist government is supportive of Hamas (see related story). The agreement entailed an Israeli apology for “any errors that could have led to loss of life” during the 2010 incident and a pledge to negotiate compensation.

“Now, for the families, I would say to them we know what it’s like to have lost people in any kind of situation where you think somehow it was wrongful,” Kerry said.

“And we have ways of dealing with that. The government is working hard in order to address that,” he continued. “Our sympathies go to those families, and we hope that in the days ahead, that this issue can be appropriately resolved and put behind us so that we can move forward to the larger strategic challenges that we face.”

Speaking alongside Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stressed the importance of compensation for families of those killed on the vessel, Mavi Marmara, in line with the need for Israeli “accountability.”

The Turkish ship was part of a small flotilla that tried to break Israel’s security blockade of Gaza, maintained in response to Hamas’ control of the territory and rocket attacks from there, and designed to prevent weapons shipments from reaching the coastal strip.

An Israeli commission of inquiry into the incident described four of the nine dead as “activists or volunteers” of Insani Yardim Vakfi (known by the acronym IHH), a radical Turkish “charity” that was designated by the U.S. government in 2008 for funding Hamas.

Another four were “activists in other Turkish Islamic organizations,” the commission found.

A subsequent United Nations panel concluded that the loss of life resulting from the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] actions was “unacceptable” and raised questions about the number and nature of some of the gunshot wounds.

But it also cited strong concerns about the activists’ actions.

“The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH,” it said.

The U.N. panel’s report stated that the Israelis “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.”

It went on to confirm that the group of passengers “was armed with iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots, and there is some indication that they also used knives. Firearms were taken from IDF personnel and passengers disabled at least one by removing the ammunition from it.”

“Two soldiers received gunshot wounds. There is some reason to believe that they may have been shot by passengers, although the panel is not able to conclusively establish how the gunshot wounds were caused. Nevertheless, seven other soldiers were wounded by passengers, some seriously.”

One of the Turkish men wounded on the Mavi Marmara announced last week that he plans to donate any compensation he receives to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Turkey’s Hurriyet daily reported.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow