ICC opens initial probe against Israel over Marmara raid

Ship was registered to African island state of Comoros, which filed complaint to International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Hanhil, Nederlandstalige Wikipedia)
The International Criminal Court in The Hague (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Hanhil, Nederlandstalige Wikipedia)

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court — the permanent war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands — said Tuesday she received a complaint about Israel’s 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, and will open a preliminary investigation.

The complaint came from the tiny African state of Comoros, which is a member of the court, though Israel is not. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that she met with lawyers representing Comoros earlier Tuesday. The Mavi Marmari, on which nine Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli naval commandos who were attacked when they boarded to intercept it, was registered in Comoros.

“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Bensouda was quoted by Reuters saying.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a flotilla which sailed toward Gaza to try to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The Israeli Navy intercepted all other vessels in flotilla without resistance, but commandos were attacked with metal bars and clubs when they boarded the Marmara on may 30, 2010, opened fire, and killed the nine Turks.

The incident exacerbated strained diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey, two former warm allies. In March, in a phone conversation arranged during the final moments of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for operational errors made in the raid and promised compensation for the victims and their families. Negotiations are said to be nearing completion.

Activists on the 'Mavi Marmara' preparing to attack IDF soldiers (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Activists on the ‘Mavi Marmara’ preparing to attack IDF soldiers (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

According to Reuters, the Comoran petition was relayed to the ICC by a Turkish law firm, Elmadag, which represents the Marmara victims’ families.

“If this will not bring about results, we’ll know that certain countries are influencing the court,” Ramadan Ariturk, one of the families’ attorneys, told the Anatolia Turkish news agency.

Previous attempts to engage prosecutors in an investigation of Israel have stalled due to lack of jurisdiction.

The ICC has jurisdiction over its members, over cases that are referred to it by the UN Security Council and over events that take place on the territory of member states.

In the filing, lawyers from the Istanbul-based Elmadag argued that events that took place on the Mavi Marmara should be considered as having occurred on the territory of Comoros.

The court relies on assistance from member states and other governments to enforce its rulings. The United States, Russia and China are not members, but 122 other countries are.

Sudan, despite being a member, has refused to arrest its president, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the court for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court’s arrest warrant against al-Bashir has been opposed by the African Union and League of Arab States, among others.

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