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Never mind the 'Freedom Flotilla.' Is Israel's Gaza blockade legal?

Israel has laid out a meticulous legal justification for its fatal raid on a Turkish-flagged boat, which was sailing in international waters as part of the 'Freedom Flotilla.' But most countries have focused on whether Israel's Gaza blockade is legal.

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A woman and youth pass by shops in Jerusalem’s Old City June 1. Businesses were closed by Palestinians as part of general strike to protest Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-flagged ship bound for Gaza.

Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

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Israel’s raid of a “Freedom Flotilla” of activists that ended with nine deaths brought a global firestorm of protest, dimmed the chances for a peace deal, and threatened Israel’s relations with Turkey, its closest ally in the region.

Both sides immediately claimed the protection of international law, with Israel citing legal justification for effectively extending its naval blockade into international waters where the flotilla was heading for Gaza. Yet for most Western governments, with the exception of the United States, the question is not so much the legality or illegality of Israel’s action. Rather, European countries from Germany to Britain are focusing on the broader legal context of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and the suffering of civilians there.

Lists of items forbidden to enter under the blockade include everything from canned fruit and fishing rods to musical instruments, donkeys, and nutmeg. A ban on concrete and iron, carried by the “Freedom Flotilla,” aims to stop the building of rocket-proof bunkers – but has hampered reconstruction in the wake of Israel’s 2009 offensive to stop Hamas rocket fire.

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

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