Israel announces Gaza aid flotilla inquiry, Turkey not satisfied

Israel opened a limited investigation into the legality of its raid on the Gaza aid flotilla. Irish and Canadian observers will participate. Israel and the US hope the move will reduce the country's international isolation, but critics say plan doesn't go far enough.

By , Correspondent

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    Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left, listens to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speak during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Monday. Israel has approved an inquiry commission into its raid on the Gaza aid flotilla two weeks ago.
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Seeking to allay criticism of its fatal raid on a boat participating in the Gaza aid flotilla that challenged the economic blockade of the Palestinian territory, Israel said it will create a commission to investigate the legality of its decision to board the boat in international waters.

The Israeli cabinet unanimously approved the creation of the domestic commission, which will also include an Northern Ireland politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble and a Canadian legal expert as non-voting observers. The commission will not have the power to investigate the Israeli military, and is well short of the independent international investigation demanded by Turkey, nine of whose citizens were killed in the Israeli raid.

But coupled with an expected relaxation of Israel's siege on the coastal strip controlled by Hamas, analysts here believe the commission could potentially ease Israel's isolation as well as broader pressure for an international probe. The US has backed the Israeli investigation, as have some European governments.

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

Israel is reportedly considering allowing more goods through its border with the Gaza Strip and the stationing of foreign monitors on the Gaza border passages.

"This is part of a transaction,'' said Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University. "That can be interpreted as an achievement of the flotilla. It tempers the demands for an international investigation. The peace activists will be satisfied that their actions and risk taking produced a change in Israeli policy.''

A government spokesperson said that Israel is continuing to mull ways to relax the three-year blockade on commercial products through its land crossings into the Gaza Strip. A European Union diplomat told Agence France Press that Israel is willing to enact a "significant'' shift in policy at its borders.

Turkey not satisfied

Turkey, however, responded that it has no confidence in Israel's ability to investigate the May 31 killing of nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara, which sailed under a Turkish flag. Some of the activists were armed with knives and metal clubs.

"We have no trust at all that Israel, a country that has carried out such an attack on a civilian convoy in international waters, will conduct an impartial investigation," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara.

The Israeli move was announced after days negotiations with the US over including international observers for the first time in an investigation of potential misconduct by Israeli soldiers. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement the decision to set up the committee was ``important'' and expressed confidence it will be impartial and credible, but added that the US would await its findings before passing final judgment.

The Israeli committee will be headed by retired Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel, and include Shabtai Rosen, an expert on international law, and Amos Horev, a retired Israeli general.

Mr. Trimble is an Ulster Unionist who shared the 1988 peace laureate for his role in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland, and is now a Conservative member of Britain's House of Lords. In May, he was a founding member of the "Friends of Israel," a group formed in response to an "unprecedented delegitimization campaign against Israel, driven by the enemies of the Jewish state and perversely assumed by numerous international authorities," according to a press release.

Ken Watkin is the other observer. Mr. Watkin is a former Judge Advocate General for the Canadian military.

"It's important for us to show that, in contrast to the impression around the world that what happened was an act of piracy, (it) was in fact a legitimate action,'' said Cabinet Minister Dan Meridor in an interview with Israel Radio. "Israel is in a difficult situation since the flotilla incident.''

The fact that the commission will focus on broad questions of international law rather than investigate fully the events that led to the shootings of the nine Turks has been criticized. Domestic critics of the government complain that the inquiry won't look at allegedly faulty decision making procedures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.

"It's jurisdiction [is] very weak,'' writes Aeyal Gross, a Tel Aviv University Law Professor in an e-mailed response to questions. "It has some very credible members but had the government wanted to give the committee full jurisdiction and independence it would have acted otherwise.''

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

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