AFP — Turkish court on Monday ordered the arrest of four former Israeli military chiefs over a deadly 2010 maritime assault that plunged relations between the former allies into crisis, a lawyer working on the case said.
The court will ask Interpol to issue international arrest warrants for the four men, lawyer Cihat Gokdemir told AFP.
No one at the Israeli embassy in Ankara was immediately available for comment.
Turkish prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the commanders, who went on trial in absentia in 2012.
They are former military chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former navy chief Eliezer Marom, former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin and former air force intelligence chief Avishai Levy.
Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla dispatched by Turkish relief agency IHH to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, on May 31, 2010, leaving nine Turkish activists dead. A tenth died recently.
The assault sparked widespread condemnation and provoked a major diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador, demanded a formal apology and compensation, and an end to the blockade on the Gaza Strip — which is ruled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group.
IHH together with the victims’ families brought a criminal case against the four Israeli ex-military chiefs after the maritime assault.
An Israeli probe ruled that the raid did not violate international law, in a finding that Turkey said lacked credibility.
Talks on compensation began a year ago after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey in a breakthrough brokered by US President Barack Obama.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, said in April he was prepared to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
Authorities had said recently they were close to a deal that would see Israel pay compensation for the deaths, but Tel Aviv said this was conditional on the lawsuits against its soldiers being dropped.
“We will not drop the lawsuits. We believe criminals must be put on trial,” Serkan Nergis, spokesman for the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), told AFP on Monday.
“Even if we do give up, victims’ families will not,” he said.
Turkish media have said that any deal with Israel would have the status of an international agreement and would give the Israeli military immunity from any liability over the assault.
Under the Turkish constitution, international treaties take precedence over domestic law if there is a disagreement.
The reported court order came as Israeli and Turkish officials were on the cusp of inking a rapprochement deal to mend fences between the two countries after the fallout of the incident. Diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey were essentially frozen in 2010 after the raid. Israel said its soldiers were defending themselves after being attacked with deadly force upon boarding the ship.
According to recent reports, the deal, which would see Israel provide monetary compensation to the victims’ families, was awaiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.