Turkey tries Israeli ex-commanders over Mavi Marmara raid

Mavi Marmara leaves Sarayburnu port, Istanbul, 22 May 2010
Image caption The Mavi Marmara was headed towards the Gaza coast when Israeli commandos boarded it

A court in Istanbul has begun the trial in absentia of four ex-Israeli military commanders over the deadly raid on a Turkish boat as it tried to break the blockade of Gaza in 2010.

Nine Turkish activists died in clashes after the Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara. Seven of the commandos were also wounded.

The incident led to a major rift in relations between Turkey and Israel.

If the four are convicted, the court could issue a warrant for their arrest.

The Mavi Marmara was carrying 600 pro-Palestinian activists towards the Gaza coast when it was intercepted by the Israeli navy in international waters in May 2010.

Israel insists that its commandos acted in self-defence after they came under attack by Turkish activists on the boat.

The Israeli embassy in Ankara has called the trial a "unilateral political act with no judicial credibility".

It says the issue should be dealt with through dialogue between Israel and Turkey.

A UN inquiry found that Israel's blockade was "a legitimate security measure" and that Israeli troops had faced "significant, organised and violent resistance" when they boarded the ship.

However, it said Israel's decision to board the ship and the use of substantial force was "excessive and unreasonable".

Israel, which carried out its own investigation into the raid, has expressed regret for the loss of lives.

In May, Turkish prosecutors charged four retired Israeli military commanders. Among the indictments are "inciting murder through cruelty or torture".

The accused are former Israel army chief of staff Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, ex-naval chief Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom, former head of military intelligence Maj Gen Amos Yadlin, and former head of the air force Brig Gen Avishai Lev.

Nearly 500 people who were on board the ship during the raid are expected to give evidence.

International pressure following the deadly raid led Israel to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip, allowing in more food products.