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Was Israel's raid on Gaza Freedom Flotilla legal?

Israel says its raid on the so-called Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, which left nine activists dead, was a justified defense of its economic blockade of Gaza. Legal scholars aren't so sure.

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Mr. Machover's organization argues that since the initial boarding of the Mavi Marmara was “likely” to have been illegal, its civilian passengers had the right to defend themselves against the invading soldiers.

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Israeli authorities have meanwhile cited International Law provisions applicable to armed conflict at sea. They says that merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral states in neutral waters can be intercepted if they "are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade....”

So what next?

Israel already faces legal action at home. A group of Israeli lawyers petitioned Israel's high court hours after the operation, calling it "an act of piracy" involving hijacking, robbery, wrongful arrest, and kidnapping.

The lawyers cite a number of precedents, including the so-called Lotus case of 1927, relating to an incident in which eight Turks died when a French ship collided with a Turkish vessel in international waters. The judicial branch of the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, ruled against France a year after the incident.

The other precedent they cite is the 1804 Murray vs. Charming Betsy case, in which a court ruled that the US Army cannot seize goods that are not for military use in international waters, even during wartime.

Separately, Turkish prosecutors are examining possible legal action under their country’s penal code.

Israel's attorney general Yehuda Weinstein said that all of the nearly 700 activists detained will be deported by the end of the day. He told the Associated Press that he has decided not to prosecute any of the activists. Israeli officials had earlier said they were considering prosecuting about 50 people believed to be involved in violence against Israeli soldiers.

(This story was edited after posting to correct Douglas Guilfoyle's institution. He is at University College London).

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

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