Kouchner and Hague pressure Israel over Gaza

An Israeli commando on the Mavi Marmara (pic: IHH) Israel says new pictures of the raid back up its version of events

The EU could play a bigger role in ensuring aid gets into Gaza and weapons are kept out, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said.

He urged Israel to accept an international probe into the deaths of nine activists on a Turkish aid ship.

He spoke alongside UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said Europe would maintain pressure on Israel.

Israel, which says it must blockade Gaza to deter rocket attacks, has ruled out external involvement in any probe.

The deaths a week ago sparked global condemnation but defiance from Israel, which insists it has the right to defend itself.

Another aid ship, the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie, was intercepted by Israel on Saturday and officials have begun deporting its crew and activists.

'Transparency' needed

In response to criticism that Europe had not taken enough action, Mr Kouchner said the EU was willing to check cargo on ships going into Gaza, and to play more of a role in controlling the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to Gaza.

Bernard Kouchner (R) and William Hague William Hague (L) will seek a consensus with other EU nations

"The European Union must participate politically and concretely more than it already does - and it does a lot already - in the path towards peace," he said.

Mr Hague stopped short of calling for an international inquiry, but urged Israel to accept a "credible and transparent" investigation.

"We believe there should be an international presence at minimum in that inquiry or investigation," he said.

The BBC's Christian Fraser, in Paris, says Mr Hague will be pressing the same message when he visits Rome, Berlin and Warsaw later this week.

Earlier, the UN hardened proposals for an international probe, and sent their plans to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Israel's US ambassador Michael Oren said his country would reject the proposals, and reiterated that an internal inquiry would be held.

He said Israel would not apologise for the incident, in which eight Turkish citizens and a joint US-Turkish national were killed by Israeli commandos.

'State terrorism'

One of the groups which helped to organise the aid mission to Gaza, Turkish-based IHH, released new pictures of the incident on Sunday.

The images show battered and bloodied Israeli commandos surrounded by activists on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was heading to Gaza as part of an aid flotilla.

A government supporter in Israel The raid has provoked protests by supporters and critics within Israel

The IHH apparently hoped that the images would show how its activists had given medical attention to stricken Israelis, even while they were under attack.

But Israel said the images backed up its version of events: that the troops were attacked by "extremists" and acted in self-defence.

Turkey has strongly criticised Israel over the killings, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan labelling the commando operation "state terrorism".

Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is visiting Turkey on Monday and intends to pay his respects to the dead activists.

His government is the bitter rival of Hamas, which took control of Gaza from Mr Abbas's Fatah movement in 2007.

Israel - which has controlled most access to Gaza since withdrawing troops and settlers in 2005 - tightened its blockade of Gaza after the Hamas takeover.

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