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Israel Says To Conduct Probe Into Deadly Flotilla Raid; Turkey Not Satisfied


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 14
Israel has announced it is setting up a commission of inquiry into the circumstances of its deadly commando raid on the international aid convoy trying to reach Gaza. The Israeli cabinet under Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu gave formal approval for the inquiry today.

Netanyahu, speaking at that cabinet meeting, said he's sure the inquiry will show Israel acted rightly.

"I am convinced the commission's exposure of the facts will prove that Israel's aims and actions and those of the Israel Defense Forces were proper acts of defense in accordance with the highest international standards," Netanyahu said. "I believe the cabinet's decision this morning to set up this independent public commission will make clear to the entire world that Israel acts lawfully, transparently, and with full responsibility."

The commission is to be headed by Yaakov Turkel, a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice. The panel will also have two foreign observers -- Nobel Peace Prize-winning Northern Ireland politician David Trimble and the former chief military prosecutor in Canada, retired Brigadier General Ken Watkin.

The move comes amid unrelenting international pressure on Israel to explain how its elite commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists during a raid on the Turkish-led aid flotilla trying to breach the sea blockade of Gaza on March 31.

'One-Sided Inquiry'

But the commission's terms do not satisfy critics -- like Turkey -- who have called for a fully independent international inquiry into what happened. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu repeated that demand in Ankara today.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
"We don't believe that a country which attacked a civilian convoy sailing in international waters can carry out an impartial investigation," Davutoglu said. "In this respect, we want an international commission to investigate this issue, and we want this commission to be set up under the direct control of the United Nations. We are persistent in our demands. Israel's one-sided inquiry is not valuable to us."

Netanyahu has sought to add an international flavor to the Israeli inquiry by appointing the two foreigners to the panel as observers. But they will not have the right to vote on the proceedings and conclusions of the commission. Nor will they have automatic access to documents the disclosure of which could harm national security.

And the panel will not be able to question directly the soldiers who were involved in the incident but will have to rely on testimony they have given to a separate, internal inquiry by the Israeli Army.

Nonethelesss, the United States, Israel's closest ally, has welcomed the decision to hold the inquiry, which it called an important step forward.

'Credible And Impartial'

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice in a June 13 interview on Fox News said that Washington has been working with the Israelis to devise a credible format for the investigation.

"We said from the outset that we believe Israel has the will and the capacity to conduct such a credible and impartial investigation," Rice said. "We've been working very closely with Israel over the course of last few weeks as they think through how they plan to constitute such an investigation, and that is what we support and what we think is necessary to address this challenge."

The row over the aid flotilla has focused attention on the bigger issue of the 3-year-old Israeli blockade of Gaza, which U.S. President Barack Obama has called unsustainable.

EU foreign ministers today, meeting in Luxembourg, issued a draft statement calling the blockade "unacceptable and counterproductive."

And the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today the blockade violates the Geneva Conventions. It said the whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms reaching the Hamas militants who govern Gaza. But Netanyahu said on June 13 that Israel would continue discussions with the international community to prevent weapons from reaching Gaza and to allow in humanitarian aid, an apparent signal he is open to revising blockade procedures.

compiled from agency reports