Israel Gaza probe criticised by Turkey and Palestinians

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak (left) at cabinet meeting Israel's cabinet approved the inquiry plan on Monday

Israel's plans to hold an inquiry into its deadly raid on a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships have been dismissed by Turkey and the Palestinians.

Turkey said Israel could not run an impartial probe into the deaths of nine Turkish activists during a 31 May raid.

And Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the inquiry would not meet demands made by the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair says he hopes Israel will allow more humanitarian items into Gaza.

Speaking to the BBC before briefing European Union foreign ministers, Mr Blair said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed in principle to a "significant change" in the way the blockade was organised.

At the meeting, EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton said the bloc was ready to send monitors to support the opening of border crossings as soon as they saw signs of movement from Israel.

'No trust in Israel'

Israel announced its plans to hold an inquiry - including two foreign observers - having earlier rejected a UN proposal for an international probe.

ISRAEL'S FLOTILLA INQUIRY

  • Three-man panel
  • Headed by ex-Supreme Court judge Yaakov Tirkel
  • Other members: Amos Horev, a retired military officer; and Shabtai Rosen, a professor of international law
  • Two foreign observers: David Trimble and Ken Watkin
  • Will consider how nine Turkish activists died after their ship was boarded by Israeli commandos
  • Will also adjudge whether Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is allowed under international law

The activists were killed when Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla of ships in international waters. The boats were heading to Gaza on a mission to deliver humanitarian aid, in defiance of Israel's blockade, when they were boarded.

In a statement released following an emergency session held after the raid on 31 May, the Security Council called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent" investigation.

The three-man panel will be led by former Israeli Supreme Court judge Yaakov Tirkel. The other members are Amos Horev, a retired major-general in the Israeli military and a former president of the Israel Institute of Technology, and Shabtai Rosen, a 93-year-old professor of international law.

The two foreign experts will take part in the hearings and subsequent discussions, but will not vote on the conclusions of the inquiry.

However, the premise of the inquiry was quickly criticised by Turkey and by Mr Abbas.

Start Quote

Israel must lift the blockade... this is our principal and permanent demand”

End Quote Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian Authority President

"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," said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"To have a defendant acting simultaneously as both prosecutor and judge is not compatible with any principle of law."

Mr Abbas, speaking in Paris, said the inquiry "does not correspond to what the Security Council asked for".

"Israel must lift the blockade," Mr Abbas said. "That is our principal and permanent demand."

In contrast, Washington welcomed the announcement of the inquiry, describing it as "an important step forward".

Israel 'acting legally'

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described Israel's blockade of Gaza as a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

Analysis

An experienced politician like Benjamin Netanyahu knows that getting the outcome you want from a public inquiry is all about the right terms of reference and who you appoint to sit on the inquiry.

So, the commissions' remit does not include looking at the process of government decision making which led to Israeli commando raid. It will instead focus on questions of international law.

And the two foreign observers who have been appointed are seen as friends of Israel.

Turkey - and others critical of Israel - want a fully independent UN commission of inquiry. This demand has now been deflected with the appointment of credible (but not unfriendly) international figures as non-voting observers.

Whatever happens in the commission of inquiry, Israel is under immense pressure - from allies as well as enemies - to lift the Gaza blockade.

In a statement, the ICRC described the situation in Gaza as dire, saying the only sustainable solution was a lifting of the blockade.

Last month's clashes came after six ships carrying campaigners and 10,000 tonnes of aid sailed from Cyprus in an attempt to break Israel's three-year blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Israel says its troops acted in self-defence when activists attacked commandos trying to board the main vessel in the flotilla. The campaigners say the soldiers opened fire without any provocation.

The proposal for an Israeli inquiry into the Gaza convoy raid was approved by the country's cabinet on Monday.

"The government decision will make it clear to the world that Israel is acting legally, responsibly, and with complete transparency," Mr Netanyahu told the cabinet, according to Haaretz newspaper.

The two foreign experts on the inquiry will be former Northern Ireland first minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble and retired Canadian military prosecutor Ken Watkin.

Lord Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist leader, won the Nobel prize for his role in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to the worst of the political violence in Northern Ireland.

Since stepping aside from politics there, he has travelled to the Middle East to speak about conflict resolution.

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