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Israel Rebuffs Call For International Investigation Into Aid Ship Raid


Several hundred protesters burned a Star of David near the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon today to call for an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel's ambassador to the United States says his country will reject a proposed international commission to probe into the events surrounding its deadly raid on an aid ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza.

Michael Oren told U.S. television that Israel has the ability and the right to investigate its own military.

He also said Israel would not apologize for the May 31 incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed. Eight were Turkish, and the ninth had joint U.S.-Turkish nationality.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met earlier today with senior cabinet ministers to discuss UN demands for an international investigation. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed a multinational investigation of the Israeli raid on the "Mavi Mamara" and said the probe would be lead by New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and include representatives from Turkey, the United States, and Israel.

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke to reporters outside the meeting and indicated that Israel would reject the UN proposal.

"I think it's an Israeli matter. Clearly, the blockade on Gaza is necessary from a security point of view," Steinitz said. "If we shall lift the blockade on Gaza, the military terror rocket [attacks] on the people of Israel will increase and, of course, we cannot afford it. And there is a lot of hypocrisy here."

Steinitz's comments were echoed by another Israeli cabinet member, Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who said, "I think that Israel can investigate all events by itself. By the way, it's in our interest because we always check ourselves. We want to know if something went wrong and, if so, how to fix it. I think that Israel can do it. We don't need any international help in doing it."

'Clear Intention'

In the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said some onboard the aid ship were there to intentionally provoke a conflict.

"According to information we now have, this group boarded separately from a different city, organized separately, was equipped separately, and boarded the ship using different procedures, actually without passing inspections that others did," Netanyahu said. "The clear intention of the members of this violent group was to initiate a violent clash with Israeli soldiers."

Israel has contended from the start that its commandos were under orders not to use violence unless absolutely necessary and that it was only when people aboard the "Mavi Mamara" started beating Israeli troops that the commandos resorted to force, killing the nine activists.

That claim received support from an unexpected quarter today when the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyet" published pictures of bloodied and beaten Israeli commandos who had been overpowered by activists on the "Mavi Mamara." Turkey has led the international outcry against the deadly raid, threatening to severely curtail the country's relations with Israel.

Turkey is one of the few Muslim nations to have official ties with Israel. The pictures published by "Hurriyet" also show activists treating injured Israeli troops.

The Israel Defense Forces released a statement saying the "published pictures serve as clear and unequivocal proof of Israel's repeated arguments that aboard [the 'Mavi Mamara'] were mercenaries who intended to kill Israeli soldiers."

30 Gunshot Wounds

The bodies of the nine slain activists were returned to Turkey. Turkey's state forensics laboratory reported that the dead activists -- all Turkish nationals -- had been shot a total of 30 times, many at close range. The laboratory said five of the nine were killed by gunshots to the head.

Israel today deported some activists from the "Rachel Corrie," an Irish ship that also attempted to bring aid to Gaza. Israel forces intercepted the ship on June 5. Those aboard did not resist the seizure of the ship. The ship was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Seven of the activists aboard were sent to Jordan and the others were due to depart from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

Protests against Israel's actions continued today.

Thousands of people turned out in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, burning Israeli flags and accusing Arab nations of "complicity and silence." Several hundred people in Lebanon staged a demonstration against Israel and the United States outside the U.S. Embassy north of Beirut. A 47-member delegation from the Arab League crossed through Egypt's Rafah border crossing into Gaza today to show their support for the plight of people in Gaza.

compiled from agency reports