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As UN Gaza flotilla inquiry opens, a chance for improved Turkey-Israel relations?

The UN inquiry into Israel's Gaza flotilla raid, which left 8 Turks and one Turkish-American dead, opens today. Analysts say incentives are strong for both Turkey and Israel to repair their tattered alliance.

By Staff writer, Yigal SchleiferCorrespondent / August 10, 2010

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, center, sits before testifying in front of a UN inquiry commission into the Israeli naval raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, in Jerusalem, Tuesday.

Bernat Armangue/AP

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Jerusalem and Istanbul

The UN investigation into Israel's Gaza flotilla raid that left 8 Turks and one Turkish-American dead opens today with Turkey insisting that Israel bears full responsibility for the deaths and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying a Turkish aid group's attempt to breach the economic blockade of Gaza was a "deliberate provocation."

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The UN investigation will start with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meeting with the four-member panel, which includes both an Israeli and a Turkish representative. The panel will investigate the fatal Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid boat.

“I am grateful for the spirit of constructive engagement that has made this unprecedented panel possible,” Mr. Ban said Monday, hinting at an Israel-Turkey rapprochement that both sides as well as common ally Washington seem keen to achieve. “I am confident that this initiative will contribute to regional stability.”

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

Israel’s participation in the UN probe is unprecedented, coming after years of criticizing UN bias and resisting intense international pressure to change its heavy-handed approach. But it also came with key conditions – among them, says Israel, Mr. Ban’s agreement behind the scenes that the probe would not directly question Israeli soldiers.

Yesterday, Ban denied making that promise, throwing into question Israel’s cooperation. An Israeli government statement said: "Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu makes it absolutely clear that Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers."

The last-minute dispute signals the myriad red lines and potentially conflicting demands that the panel will have to navigate as it takes up its work today.

The UN panel is expected to examine internal Israeli and Turkish investigations and report back to Ban by mid-September. Israel’s military completed its probe of the incident several weeks ago, while an inquiry into the raid’s legality headed by former Israeli Supreme Court judge Jacob Turkel began questioning top Israeli leaders this week.

A broader mandate?

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