Israeli flotilla inquiry inadequate, Turkey and others say

McClatchy NewspapersJune 14, 2010 

JERUSALEM — Israel on Monday announced a limited internal inquiry into its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, a move the Obama administration welcomed but one that Turkey, the Palestinian Authority and other countries denounced as falling far short of the independent international probe they're seeking.

Nine Turkish activists died and dozens were wounded in the Israeli naval raid May 31 on an aid flotilla sponsored by a Turkish organization. One of those killed was a dual U.S.-Turkish national.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday denounced the Gaza blockade as "collective punishment" of Gaza's inhabitants and a violation of international law. The ICRC said the three-year-old closure "is having a devastating impact on the 1.5 million people living in Gaza" and urged Israel to "put an end" to it.

"The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility," said the Geneva-based body, which oversees implementation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. "The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law."

In Washington, spokesman Jonathan Peled said the Israeli Embassy had no comment on the ICRC report, as the Israeli government is studying it in Jerusalem

The Israeli investigation will be led by former Israeli high court Justice Yaakov Tirkel, 75, alongside retired Maj. Gen. Amos Horev, 86, and Shabtai Rosen, 93, a professor of international law. Two international observers — Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble, 65, and Canadian former Judge Advocate General Ken Watkin, 55 — will look into legal aspects of the operation. The observers won't take part in the general proceedings or vote on the conclusions.

According to one Israeli Cabinet official, the commission's mandate will include examining the legality of Israel's maritime blockade on Gaza and Israel's decision to intercept the six-ship flotilla that was attempting to breach the blockade.

While the commission can interview Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, it won't have access to the naval commandos who took part in the raid, the officers who issued their orders or any other military personnel.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had "no trust at all in Israel" and that his country reserved the right to review its diplomatic ties to Israel.

The Obama administration called the move an "important step forward" but called for a prompt inquiry.

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

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

In contrast, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said, "The proposition made today for the inquiry committee does not correspond to the request of the (United Nations) Security Council."

In Israel, Netanyahu's Cabinet voiced strong support for the commission and expressed hope that it would "put to rest" any questions over the raid.

"I am convinced that uncovering the facts will prove that Israel acted in an appropriately defensive fashion in accordance with the highest standards," Netanyahu told Cabinet members Monday.

"The committee will clarify to the world that Israel acts according to law with responsibility and full transparency," he said.

Since its raid on the flotilla, Israel has faced mounting international pressure to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip. The flotilla was attempting to reach Gaza with more than 10,000 tons of aid when the Israeli navy intercepted it. Israel tightened its blockade on Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas militants seized control of the coastal strip. Israel claims that the blockade prevents weapons from falling into the hands of militants.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent. Warren P. Strobel contributed to this article from Washington.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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