Israel unveils own Gaza flotilla probe

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel has set up an "independent public commission" to investigate its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in a long-awaited move that the cabinet was set to rubber stamp on Monday.

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel has set up an "independent public commission" to investigate its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in a long-awaited move that the cabinet was set to rubber stamp on Monday.

The committee, which will include two foreign observers, was established to conduct an internal investigation into the legal aspects of the operation in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists.

Israelis wave their national flag as they demonstrate in the coastal city of Netanya in support of their army and against Turkey, following a raid by Israeli forces on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. AFP photo
Israelis wave their national flag as they demonstrate in the coastal city of Netanya in support of their army and against Turkey, following a raid by Israeli forces on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. AFP photo

Hours after the late-night announcement, cabinet members met in Jerusalem where they were expected to give their stamp of approval to the make-up and mandate of the inquiry commission.

Israel, which has consistently rejected calls for an international probe into the events of May 31, said retired Israeli supreme court judge Yaakov Tirkel would chair the commission.

In a move to boost the credibility of the probe, the government also named two international observers: Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble and Ken Watkin, a former judge advocate general of the Canadian armed forces.

"In light of the exceptional circumstances of the incident, it was decided to appoint two foreign experts who will serve as observers," a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

But it was not clear what powers Trimble and Watkin would have, and the statement noted they would not able "to vote in relation to the proceedings and conclusions of the commission."

And the two could also be denied access to documents or information if it was "almost certain to cause substantial harm to national security or to the state's foreign relations."

Netanyahu's office said the commission's mandate was to examine Israel's naval blockade of Gaza and its legality under international law and the "actions taken by Israel to enforce the naval blockade in the incident of 31 May 2010 with the rules of international law".

It would also examine "the actions taken by the organisers of the flotilla and its participants, as well as their identity."

The US welcomed the announcement as "an important step forward," but said it expected the investigation to be carried out promptly.

"While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel's commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly," said a statement by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

"We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community."

Canada also welcomed the Israeli announcement but said it also understood Israel's reasons for wanting to prevent ships from reaching Gaza in defiance of the naval blockade.

"Canada fully supports an impartial, credible, and transparent investigation into the tragic incident," Foreign Affairs Minister Laurence Cannon said in a statement.

"While we fully support the importance of delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, we also fully support Israel?s right to inspect ships to ensure military material and armaments do not reach the hands of Hamas terrorists," Cannon added.

The UN Security Council had called for an "impartial" investigation into the incident, stopping short of calls by Turkey and other countries for an independent, international investigation.

The announcement came as Israel faced mounting pressure to end its tight blockade of the Gaza Strip, which the doomed aid flotilla was trying to reach.

Israel and Egypt cut off most access to the Gaza Strip when Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas and other militants during a cross-border raid in June 2006.

The closure was tightened further the following year when the Islamist group, which has fired thousands of rockets and mortar rounds into Israel, seized power in Gaza.

Other news