JERUSALEM — Israeli officials said Sunday they would imminently announce an investigative panel that will probe the events surrounding an Israeli naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine people dead and dozens wounded.
While officials in the prime minister's office said that the committee would be an "independent public committee" they did not give details about its mandate or composition.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that retired Israeli Supreme Court Judge Yaakov Tirtel will head the investigation.
"The principle guiding our policy is clear — to prevent the entry of war material from entering Gaza and to allow the entry of humanitarian aid and non-contraband goods into the Gaza Strip," said Netanyahu.
Intelligence head Dan Meridor meanwhile confirmed in a separate interview that two international representatives would be allowed as "observers" in the investigation.
"The committee will be impartial, professional, comprehensive and transparent, and will meet the highest international standards," said one Israeli official, who spoke anonymously because the investigation has not yet been publically announced.
But diplomats in Jerusalem have expressed doubts over the committee, and whether it will meet the demands of much of the international community who wanted an independent investigation with a broad mandate.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that an "international component" would enhance the credibility of an Israeli inquiry.
"We've had discussions with Israel as to how and whether they might go about doing that," she said.
Reports in the Israeli press have suggested that the investigators would not be allowed to interview naval commandos who took part in the raid, or the head of the Israeli navy, who issued their orders.
Israel's raid on the flotilla has drawn international condemnation, especially from Israel's long-time ally Turkey.
Israeli naval commandos stopped six boats that were part of the flotilla in the predawn hours of May 31. On the largest boat, the Turkish-registered Marmara, nine people were killed in a series of events that has come under contention.
The Israeli military has released video footage depicting their naval commandos rappelling onto the ship, where they are met by men wielding clubs and metal rods. Israel said that eight of their soldiers were injured, before supporting units opened fire and secured the ship.
Passengers said that the commandos opened fire first, and that the boat was defending itself from being boarded in international waters. They claim that Israel had no legal right to block the ship from reaching Gaza. Eight of the people killed held Turkish citizenship, while a ninth held both Turkish and American passports.
In addition for calls for an investigation on board the Marmara, a number of countries have called for Israel to revaluate its blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The flotilla was attempting to deliver more than 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-led blockade since 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.
Netanyahu has confirmed that he was discussing mechanisms by which he could ease the blockade with a number of international leaders, including President Barack Obama and Tony Blair, the envoy of the Quartet of Middle East Peacemakers.
He has also appointed Israeli Transportation Minster Yisrael Katz (Likud) to explore options by which Israel could change the internal system by which it allows goods to enter the Gaza Strip.
A number of alternatives have been discussed, including setting up a sterile port system by which maritime shipments could reach Gaza, and an opening of land crossings with European monitors.
Critics, including the Israeli NGO Gisha, believe that the blockade is a form of "collective punishment" meant to weaken the Hamas regime.
(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent based in Jerusalem.)
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