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Israel rejects international investigation of Freedom Flotilla raid

But Israeli leaders – including far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – say they are open to US involvement in a domestic investigation of the Israeli raid that killed nine activists on the Gaza-bound "Freedom Flotilla."

By Correspondent / June 3, 2010

Palestinians in a fishing boat decorated with Turkish and Palestinian flags hold a pro-Turkey protest in the sea off the shore of Gaza City, Thursday, June 3, 2010. Israel on Thursday rejected calls from the United Nations and others for an international investigation of its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla but left the door open to foreign involvement.

AP Photo/Adel Hana

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Tel Aviv, Israel

Israeli leaders on Thursday rejected growing calls for an international investigation of its fatal intercept of the Gaza-bound "Freedom Flotilla." But they are weighing whether to include foreign observers in a domestic probe, a move that would help deflect international criticism after Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.

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A decision to include international involvement would mark an evolution from last year, when, in the wake of the three-week offensive in Gaza, Israel resisted calls to set up its own independent investigation committee and refused to cooperate with the United Nations inquiry headed by Richard Goldstone.

But part of the shift may be an Israeli perception that its prospects for vindication are greater this time around. An investigation of the isolated flotilla operation is seen as likely to be more straightforward than those that looked into the 2008-2009 Gaza war or Israel's 2002 invasion of a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin that killed dozens.

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

"It is a change in policy, but also reflects a change in circumstances," says Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University. "The facts here are easy to establish, unlike Gaza and Jenin and numerous other incidents where the combat made it hard…. Clearly having an investigation which involves a neutral foreign observer will be an important response to the one-sided Goldstone process."

Indeed, this time, Israel is confident that it has evidence such as video footage that will back up its narrative that soldiers were attacked by weapon-wielding activists. Activists from the ship argue that they were provoked by Israeli naval commandos descending on ropes from a helicopter.

"This was a pinpoint incident that you have data material, before and after,'' says an Israeli official. "There's a sense in the air that if you investigate what happened on that ship its going to bear out Israel's version.''

Top cabinet ministers mulling US involvement

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday condemned Israel's raid on the flotilla and approved a resolution brought forward by Pakistan, Sudan, and the Palestinian delegation that called for an investigation. Israel and others say the legitimacy of the rights council is compromised by the presence of countries like Sudan, whose president has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. They say the council's call for an investigation is political.

But demands for an international investigation have come from many corners, not just the council. Reflecting Israel's indignant response to such calls, which have placed no emphasis on Hamas's compliance with international law, Israeli Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu on Wednesday night said that the Jewish state faced an "international attack of hypocrisy.''

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