A court in Istanbul has voted unanimously to approve an indictment against Israel’s former military chief Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, along with the former heads of its navy, air force intelligence, and military intelligence, Eliezer Marom, Amos Yadlin, and Avishai Levi, the Anadolu Agency has reported. They face nine consecutive life terms in prison for ‘inciting to kill monstrously, and by torturing,’ the agency added. The indictments arose out of a violent attack in the early hours of May 31, 2010 by Israeli commandos on a flotilla of ships heading for Gaza with aid, medical supplies and unarmed peace activists. The ships were trying to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

The Mavi Marmara was boarded by commandos who killed 9 Turkish volunteers and injured hundreds of others.

According to Turkish news agencies, nine life sentences were demanded – one for each of the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara – as part of the indictment, which calls for a combined 18,000 years of imprisonment for the four former officers, as punishment for crimes committed during the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The indictment includes 490 victims and complainants, 189 of whom were injured during the raid.

In December 2010, Israel proposed paying compensation to relatives of Turks it killed during the raid on the Gaza-bound ship, in exchange for Ankara’s help in indemnifying the Israeli navy against lawsuits.

The offer included measures to improve relations between the countries, but appeared to have fallen short of Turkey’s demand that Israel formally apologise for the deaths of the nine pro-Palestinian activists in May.

Israel has not responded officially to the submission of the Turkish indictment against four former top IDF officers, but a foreign ministry official stated anonymously on Monday that the indictment reflects a worsening in relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. ‘Erdogan is systematically killing relations between the two states,’ the official said.

Former Chief of Staff Ashkenazi released a response saying that ‘Turkey is an important state, and it shares with Israel a common interest in stability in the Middle East, and I am sure that in the end common sense will prevail.’ Ashkenazi added that ‘from the start of this affair I chose to appear in every forum, and defend IDF soldiers and the IDF itself; the soldiers and the army carried out its mission in the field, for the benefit of the state.’

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said he thinks that heavy international pressure will be exerted on Turkey, calling on it to scuttle this indictment. ‘We view this as a grave development,’ he said. ‘Things have lost all proportion.’

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set up an independent panel of inquiry into the incident which in its Report of September 2011 found that Israel’s interception of the vessels was “excessive and unreasonable,” while the flotilla acted “recklessly” in attempting to breach the naval blockade.

The four-member panel, headed by Geoffrey Palmer, the former New Zealand prime minister, was not asked to determine individual criminal responsibility but to establish the facts.

“The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable’ the Report stated, and added that there was “significant mistreatment” of passengers by Israeli authorities after the take-over of the vessels had been completed until their deportation, including physical mistreatment, harassment and intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and the denial of timely consular assistance.

At the same time, the panel says that the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza was imposed as a “legitimate security measure” to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.