Hundreds of protesters chanting “Murderer Israel!” gathered outside an Istanbul court on Tuesday at the start of a trial in absentia of a group of former Israeli military commanders, including former chief of staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi.The officers are being charged with the deaths of nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the 2010 flotilla attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The trial of four of the most senior retired commanders, which according to Turkish media reports will start with at least three consecutive days of hearings, has been dismissed by Israel as a politically motivated “show trial” and threatens to further strain already fraught relations.Ties between Jerusalem and what was once its only Muslim ally crumbled after the incident, in which some of the soldiers who tried to forcibly commandeer the ship were injured in clashes with those onboard that left nine of the passengers dead.Over a dozen witnesses testified in the first several hours of the trial according to Turkish media reports and various Twitter accounts of the case.The reports indicated that the witnesses included statements from the families of the nine dead passengers and people from other ships in the flotilla as well as surviving activists from the Mavi Marmara.Ahmed Dogan – the father of 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, the youngest of the dead passengers – said he saw evidence showing that his son had been “shot in the face,” according to the reports.Mary Ann Wright, a 65-yearold former US Army colonel who was aboard the nearby Challenger 1 ship, testified about the scale of the military force involved in stopping the flotilla as well as the soldiers’ conduct vis-a-vis the firing of paintballs and tossing of stun grenades. According to the reports, Wright said she believed that such a force could only have been meant to attack.The reports could not be confirmed and no Israeli officials are present at the trial to make objections or cross-examine the witnesses.It was also difficult to decipher what aspects of the testimony were part of the overall narratives of alleged mistreatment and what were actual allegations of crimes, as claims of “torture” were combined with passengers’ complaints of having their hands tied behind their back or being otherwise physically restrained in what they say was a rough manner.The trial reopens a wound in a rift between Israel and Turkey that remains raw despite US efforts to encourage a rapprochement between the two regional powers whose alliance was a mainstay of Washington’s influence in an unstable region.Israel and NATO member Turkey, which both border Syria, once shared intelligence and conducted joint military exercises, cooperation which has since been canceled.Several hundred people, many wearing the Arab keffiyeh headscarf around their necks adorned with the Turkish and Palestinian flags, crowded outside the courthouse as witnesses and relatives of those killed in the raid began to arrive.On a board erected outside the courthouse by IHH – the Islamic group which owns the Mavi Marmara and which Israel has said is in league with various terror groups – protesters scribbled the slogans “Israel, your end is near,” “Down with Israel,” “The revenge of our martyrs will be bitter.”Responding to the start of the trial, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said that the “opening of the kangaroo court against the Israeli military officials in Turkey demonstrates that there is no interest in repairing relations on the part of Turkish authorities.”“Instead of cooperation with Israel to solve problems in our region, the Turkish authorities are creating more unnecessary conflicts and tensions. We have respect for Turkey and its citizens but we will not apologize for fulfilling our duty [by] defending Israeli citizens,” he said.“We will continue to do everything we can to defend the Israeli officials and all of our brave soldiers from ‘lawfare,’ the new combat used against them,” Liberman added.The Turkish Embassy in Israel had no substantive comment, saying that the case is the responsibility of the Turkish Ministry of Justice.A total of 490 people, including activists and journalists, are expected to testify at the trial.The 144-page indictment is seeking multiple life sentences totaling over 18,000 years for each of the defendants – Ashkenazi, former navy head Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom, former Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin and former head of air force intelligence, Avishay Levi. It lists “inciting murder through cruelty or torture” and “inciting injury with firearms” among the charges.Israel has dismissed the case as “political theater,” saying the accused had not even been notified of the charges.Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military cooperation after the UN-sponsored Palmer Commission report into the 2010 incident released in September of last year largely exonerated Israel by calling the Gaza blockade legal under international law.Israel imposed the blockade as part of efforts to undermine Hamas’s ability to build up its military arsenal and to isolate Hamas diplomatically.That report also had mixed conclusions regarding the actual altercations on the Mavi Marmara, finding both that the soldiers had been attacked, but also that they had used unreasonable force in repelling the attacks.Turkey has demanded a formal apology, compensation for victims and the families of the dead, and for the Gaza blockade to be lifted.Israel has voiced “regret,” falling short of the full apology demanded, and has offered to pay into what it called a “humanitarian fund” through which casualties and relatives could be compensated.