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Israel’s Attack on Aid Flotilla: Legal Act or Naked Piracy?

The Christian Science Monitor’s Ben Quinn sheds some light on the legality of Israel’s recent and deadly attack on an aid flotilla making its way to Gaza. Quinn spoke with Douglas Guilfoyle, international and maritime law expert at University College London, who indicated that international law would consider the raid legal — even in international waters — if Israel’s blockade on trade to Gaza were considered legal. Trouble is, there’s disagreement about whether the latter is the case.

“The real question is: “Is the blockade itself lawful?’” Guilfoyle told Quinn. “Everything else turns on that.”

Mr. Guilfoyle says that under the international Law of Armed Conflict a state that has legally established a blockade can enforce it by boarding vessels in international waters that it reasonably expects might breach the blockade.

But a blockade itself is illegal, he says, “if it will cause excessive damage to the civilian population in relation to the military advantage gained… so therefore intercepting a vessel on the high seas to support or enforce the blockade would not be lawful.”

You can already see where this debate is headed. The Palestinians and their supporters have argued for years that the blockade violates international law, while Israel has maintained that it’s a necessary and legal precaution for keeping arms out of the hands of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that’s ruled Gaza since 2007. And don’t for a minute think that resolution over the legality of Monday’s raid will be coming any quicker.

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