JERUSALEM: Israel said Friday it would not apologise for its deadly 2010 raid on a Turkish-led flotilla of Gaza aid ships after a UN report accused the Jewish state of using excessive force.
"Israel once again expresses its regret for the loss of human life but does not apologise for this operation," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
"Israel, like every other country, has the legitimate right to defend itself," it added.
The boarding of the Gaza-bound ships by Israeli special forces which left nine Turkish activists dead and plunged ties with Ankara into a deep crisis, was criticised in a UN report leaked on Thursday.
The long-awaited report said Israel used excessive force during the raid, launched without warning in international waters, but endorsed the legality of the Jewish state's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The statement said that Israel accepted the report with "reservations".
"Israel recognises the historic importance of relations with the Turkish people and has made attempts to maintain them and hopes that a way will be found to overcome the differences," it added.
The long-awaited report is expected to be published soon after being delayed several times as Israel and Turkey sought a compromise that would allow them to repair once-warm ties.
But any possibility of healing the rift was dashed Friday when Turkey said it was expelling Israel's ambassador to Ankara and suspending military agreements.
Ankara had called on Israel to apologise for the deaths, compensate the families of victims and lift its blockade on Gaza, terms all rejected by the Jewish state.
Israel had not ruled out compensation but flatly refused to apologise.
"The Israeli soldiers were attacked by dozens of violent militants ... who were armed with knives and iron bars. The soldiers were forced to defend themselves," said the statement.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said his nation rejected the UN report, regarding it as "null and void", and Ankara warned that it intended to take its protest about the blockade to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which settles disputes between states.
A senior Israeli official said earlier Friday that the report had declared legal Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory.
"The report demonstrates that the naval blockade and its implementation conforms with international law," he said.
Israel's reservations are believed to concern the criticism that its troops used excessive and unreasonable force when boarding the ferry Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010.