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Trial opens in Turkey against Israeli military officers in 2010 ship raid

By Gul Tuysuz, CNN
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 1704 GMT (0104 HKT)
(File photo) Orthodox Jews look at Mavi Marmara off the Israeli coast on May 31, 2010 after it was raided by Israeli navy.
(File photo) Orthodox Jews look at Mavi Marmara off the Israeli coast on May 31, 2010 after it was raided by Israeli navy.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The four officers are being tried in absentia; Israel: "show trial ... has nothing to do" with justice
  • Nine died after Israel raided the ship Mavi Marmara as its convoy tried to deliver aid to Gaza
  • Plaintiffs tell of mistreatment, say Israeli troops used excessive force against unarmed civilians
  • Israel says the organized resistance of armed passengers justified the use of deadly force

Istanbul (CNN) -- A trial opened in Turkey on Tuesday against four Israeli military officers accused of commanding a botched raid against a Gaza-bound aid ship called the Mavi Marmara, which resulted in the death of nine activists.

There was no legal representation for the four Israeli military commanders, who are being tried in absentia. Israel denounced the court case, calling it a Kafkaesque "show trial" that "has nothing to do with law or justice."

Read more: Turkey kicking out top Israeli diplomats over Gaza blockade

"The 'accused' have not been served, summoned, notified or informed in any way that they are going to be charged, or what the charges against them may be," wrote Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, in an e-mail to CNN.

"There has not even been the slightest symbolic attempt to allow the 'accused' to receive legal representation," he added.

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Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the recently constructed Caglayan Justice Palace in Istanbul on Tuesday, chanting "Murderer Israel! Get out of Palestine!" Inside, the courtroom was packed with plaintiffs, lawyers and observers.

Read more: Israeli raid on Gaza-bound flotilla remembered

Turkish prosecutors accuse the four now retired Israeli senior military officials with "instigating murder with cruelty," "instigating maiming with a weapon" and "instigating torture."

In their testimony, several plaintiffs described mistreatment after the May 2010 raid. They also said Israeli troops used excessive force against unarmed civilians.

Among the plaintiffs testifying in court Tuesday was retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright, who was a passenger on a ship in the convoy that sought to break through the Israeli blockade around Gaza in May 2010.

Speaking outside the court, Wright said she witnessed the Israeli military take over the Mavi Marmara from a different ship in the flotilla. She also described her own experience in Israeli custody.

"They did everything to intimidate and humiliate us," Wright said.

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Read more: Flotilla raid 'regrettable' but legal, Israeli commission finds

"If there is a judgment against these four people, then it really sends the signal to other Israeli officials that if you implement the criminal policies of your government that are violations of your own laws as well as international laws, then you may be held accountable. And that is a major move. That's really big," she said.

Present at the trial Tuesday were officials from the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a Turkish Islamist charity organization widely known by its Turkish acronym IHH.

The IHH owns the Mavi Marmara and played a key role in the failed 2010 aid convoy to Gaza.

Read more: Israel probing claims of flotilla ship thefts

"This is a historical trial. Finally the Israelis are being tried in front of a judge," said Huseyin Oruc, Deputy Chairman of the IHH.

"It is a very emotional thing," Oruc said. "It is a big honor because in a way, this is about representing all the people who are hurt by Israel's policies."

The trial in absentia of the four Israeli commanders highlights the lingering rupture in relations between Turkey and Israel, two Middle Eastern countries that were once close military allies.

Turkish-Israeli ties were already strained before the bloody night in May 2010, when Israeli commandos rappelled from hovering helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara.

Since then, Turkey has cut military ties and withdrawn its ambassador from Israel in protest. Ankara is also demanding an apology and reparations for the eight Turks and one Turkish-American citizen killed on board the Mavi Marmara.

Turkey says the ship was in international waters when the commandos boarded it by force, killing the nine passengers. Israel says the organized resistance of armed passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara justified the use of deadly force.

Turkish legal experts said since the four Israeli defendants are being tried in absentia and since Israeli does not appear to recognize the trial, the Istanbul Bar Association Is likely to assign Turkish attorneys to represent the defendants.

CNN's Ivan Watson in Istanbul and Kareem Khadder in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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