AMSTERDAM – Turkish lawyers representing pro-Palestinian activists filed a complaint Thursday with the International Criminal Court accusing Israel of committing war crimes in May when its troops raided a boat trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
It was unclear whether the prosecutor would agree to pursue the case or whether the court has jurisdiction. But the filing reignited an issue that has severely strained Israel's relations with Turkey, previously its strongest ally in the Muslim world, and keeps Israel on the defensive over its much-criticized Gaza blockade.
A delegation representing some 300 activists and a Turkish nongovernment organization submitted the complaint to the prosecutor's office in The Hague seeking an investigation into the May 31 raid.
Nine Turkish citizens, including 19-year-old Furkan Dogan who had dual U.S.-Turkish nationality, were killed during the melee after Israeli troops rappelled from helicopters onto the deck of the ship Mavi Marmara before dawn.
"I have confidence the international court and the prosecutor will take this case," said Ahmet Dogan, Furkan's father.
Israel has said its troops fired live ammunition only after they were attacked by activists with clubs and metal bars and they felt their lives were in danger.
Attorney Ugur Sevgili said the victims want Israel investigated for torture, inhuman treatment, the taking of hostages and other violations of the Geneva war crimes convention.
"We demanded from the prosecutor to initiate an investigation and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime," Sevgili said. "We didn't mention any Israeli soldiers or any Israeli politicians. We just told them that we believe war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed."
The court, which began work in 2002 as the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, receives hundreds of complaints every year, but so far has filed indictments against 17 war crimes suspects — all of them involved in African conflicts.
Dogan, speaking outside the court's headquarters, said he thought politics might get in the way of justice.
"I believe that people who killed my son will be prosecuted. However, this case also has international and political dimensions," he said.
A U.N.-appointed panel of human rights experts, chaired by a former judge of the international court, found last month that Israel violated human rights law during its interception of the flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade for three years.
Israel rejected the panel's findings, which it said were biased and one-sided, and said the U.N. Human Rights Council that appointed the panel is heavily weighted in the Palestinians' favor.
The court normally intercedes only if the country involved is among the 114 nations that have endorsed the court's founding treaty. Israeli is not a signatory, but the ship was flying the flag of the Comoros Island, which is a member of the court.
Sevgili said he expected the Comoros to support the victims' application to the court or file its own complaint.
The prosecutor also may initiate an investigation even if the accused country does not belong to the court — but only if he determines that the country is unable to launch its own credible investigation of human rights abuses.
Among the complaints submitted and presumably pending in the prosecutor's office is an application by the Palestinian Authority 18 months ago asking for a war crimes investigation into Israel's brief yet deadly 2008 war in Gaza.