The International Criminal Court announced Thursday that it would not prosecute Israel for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010, despite evidence that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes.
On May 31, 2010, eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in a six-vessel aid convoy that was attempting to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza. A 10th activist later died of his wounds and several more were injured.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that "there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes ... were committed" on the Mavi Marmara, but that she had to be guided by the Rome Statue, the ICC's founding treaty. The statue mandates the court to prioritize war crimes committed on a large scale.
"I have concluded that the potential case(s) likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of 'sufficient gravity' to justify further action by the ICC," Ms. Bensouda said. She added that she did not want to minimize "the impact of the alleged crimes on the victims and their families."
Bensouda's decision is sure to disappoint pro-Palestinian activists who have repeatedly attempted to involve the court in the Middle East conflict, Haaretz reports. It also threatens to fan the violence that has erupted between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in recent months. East Jerusalem is in the midst of the "most serious and prolonged period of unrest since the second intifada began waning nearly a decade ago," The Christian Science Monitor's Christa Case Bryant reports.
Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation into the raid last year after Comoros – a small African country that is a member of the ICC – referred the incident to the court. The Mavi Marmara was flying under a Comoros flag.
A Turkish lawyer representing Comoros vowed not to give up the case, The Associated Press reports.
"This is a moral struggle that we're pursuing by ourselves. It's a legal struggle, a struggle in the name of humanity. This struggle isn't over," attorney Ramazan Ariturk told reporters in Istanbul. "We will object to a higher court at the International Criminal Court and we believe without a doubt that we will prevail."
Israel's foreign ministry called the case "legally unfounded and politically motivated" in a written statement. It welcomed the decision to close the case.
The six-ship flotilla marked the biggest attempt to break the Gaza blockade after two years of failed attempts, the monitor's Joshua Mitnick reported. Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas militants captured an Israeli soldier. It was strengthened the following year when Hamas took control of Gaza, Agence France-Presse reports, only to be eased in response to international outcry over the deadly raid in 2010.
A previous Israeli investigation concluded that the raid and blockade were legal under international law, the BBC reports. While a United Nations panel in 2011 agreed that the blockade was legal, it said the use of force by Israeli commandos was "excessive and unreasonable."