ISTANBUL, Turkey, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Israel's May 31 military assault on a humanitarian flotilla in international waters bound for the Gaza Strip severely strained Israeli-Turkish relations
Eight Turks and an American were killed in the attack. Speaking from Chile on the day that the flotilla was raided by Israeli commandos, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, "This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism. Nobody should think we will keep quiet in the face of this."
Last week Israel released three ships from the Gaza aid flotilla, having detained them for two months. Prosecutors and police crime scene investigation teams collected bullets and other evidence from the three ships, with some witnesses suggesting that Israel tampered with evidence on the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship where the deaths occurred, Zaman Gazetesi reported Thursday.
Two journalists were allowed onto the Mavi Marmara as witnesses. Halil Bilce of the Star Gazetesi commented: "The ship was cleaner than we had expected. But we saw bullets and empty magazines."
The only fatality among the 12 Americans aboard the flotilla was 19 year-old Furkan Dogan, a U.S. citizen born in New York City and resident in Kayseri, Turkey at the time of his death.
Dr. Haluk Ince, chairman of the council of forensic medicine in Istanbul who conducted the initial autopsies, told Dogan's father that the five shots that hit Furkan Dogan, including one to the head, had been fired from less than 18 inches away.
During a televised speech on June 4, Erdogan accused Israel of betraying its religion, saying: "You brutally killed 19-year-old Furkan Dogan. Which faith, which holy book can be an excuse for killing him?"
Following the attack the Turkish government demanded an international investigation, compensation and an apology.
Seeking to defuse rising international concern, Israel eased its blockade on the Gaza Strip and, on June 14, the Israeli Cabinet approved the establishment of a commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel and including two foreign observers, to determine whether international law had been violated.
Many observers felt that the commission's mandate was limited however, because its members wouldn't be able to question members of the Israeli military, including those who participated in the raid, except for its chief of staff and its military advocate general.
On Monday Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appeared as the first witness before the commission, testifying, "I am convinced that at the end of your investigation, it will be clear that the state of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces conducted themselves in accordance with international law and that the IDF fighters who boarded the Marmara displayed a rare courage in fulfilling their mission and in defending themselves against a real threat to their lives."
The next day Israel's military Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told the Turkel Commission that the Israeli commandos should have used snipers to "incapacitate" the activists on the Mavi Marmara.
Rising international reaction to the flotilla also led U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to direct the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish an investigative committee, which began its work Tuesday.
After initially declining to participate, Netanyahu agreed to join the effort, again with the proviso that Israeli military personnel wouldn't be questioned.