Turkey boots Israeli ambassador over flotilla raid

Turkey is throwing the Israeli ambassador out of the country and cutting military ties over Israel's refusal to apologize for a deadly May 2010 raid on a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Friday that diplomatic ties are being downgraded, and all military ties between the two countries are suspended.

Reuters reported that the Israeli ambassador, Gabby Levy, is currently in Israel and cancelled plans to return to Turkey.

Turkey's actions came a day after the leak of a United Nations report which found that the Israeli military used excessive force during the attack on the flotilla, which was trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. The report also says the blockade itself is legal.

The raid attracted international condemnation, and led to the diplomatic dispute between Israel and Turkey.

During the raid, Israeli commandoes rapelled from helicopters to board the Mavi Marmara, the largest of the ships headed for Gaza. Intense fighting broke out between the Israeli soldiers and activists onboard. In the end, nine activists — eight Turks and a Turkish-American — were killed.

The UN report, which was expected to be officially released Friday but was leaked to the New York Times a day early, says that while the Israelis used excessive and unreasonable force, they had little choice but to defend themselves from an organized group of violent passengers.

The report was completed months ago, but was delayed as Israel and Turkey sought to negotiate a resolution. Turkey wanted a formal apology and had set Friday as a deadline for Israel to do so, but Israel has said to apologize would be demoralizing.

The Associated Press quoted an Israel official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying Friday that he hoped Israel and Turkey could now "return to the co-operation that was a cornerstone of regional stability." That statement was issued before Turkey announced it was throwing out the Israeli ambassador.

The New York Times said the report takes a generally supportive view of Israel's blockade of Gaza.

“Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza,” the newspaper quoted from the leaked report's opening paragraphs. “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”

However, the report was critical of Israel's actions in the raid on the flotilla. It said Israel should have issued more warnings before taking action, and used non-violent methods first.

The report was also critical of the manner in which the nine activists died.

“Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel, the Times quoted from the report.