Israel 'to reject international ship raid inquiry'

Image caption,
Michael Oren said Israel would not apologise for the incident

Israel will reject a proposed international commission to investigate its deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, its ambassador to the US has said.

Michael Oren told US broadcaster Fox News that Israel has the ability and the right to investigate its own military.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had earlier telephoned Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu with the proposal.

Nine people died when Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish ship last week.

"We are rejecting an international commission. We are discussing with the Obama administration a way in which our inquiry will take place," Mr Oren told Fox News Sunday.

He said Israel would not apologise for the incident. Eight of those killed were Turkish, and the ninth had joint US-Turkish nationality.

Europe action

Mr Netanyahu was due to discuss Mr Ban's proposal with senior cabinet ministers on Sunday.

But Mr Oren said: "Israel is a democratic nation. Israel has the ability and the right to investigate itself, not to be investigated by any international board."

The proposed commission would have included representatives from the US, Turkey and Israel and could have been headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer.

The UK and France have urged Israel to accept an inquiry involving international oversight.

Speaking at a news conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said any investigation must be "credible and transparent".

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

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

Activists deported

Meanwhile, Israel has been deporting activists who tried to sail another aid ship - the Rachel Corrie - to Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade.

Image caption,
Activists from the Rachel Corrie are being reunited with friends and family

Six Malaysians and a Cuban national from the boat were deported to Jordan on Sunday.

Five Irish nationals - including Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire - and six Filipinos as well as the ship's Scottish captain, were due to fly out later.

Mr Netanyahu has described those on board the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie as "peace activists", but labelled the other vessel - the Mavi Marmara - a "ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists".

Post-mortem examinations in Turkey revealed that 30 bullets had been found in the victims' bodies - one activist had four in the head.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Istanbul, says some of the details seem to contradict Israel's assertion that their commandos used minimum lethal force.

In another development on Sunday, a senior Iranian military figure said the country's elite Revolutionary Guards were ready to escort aid flotillas to Gaza if ordered to by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"The Revolutionary Guards' naval forces are fully prepared to escort freedom and peace flotillas carrying humanitarian aid from all over the world to the oppressed people of Gaza," Ali Shirazi, Ayatollah Khamenei's naval representative, told Mehr news agency.

Israel stepped up its blockade of Gaza in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of the territory, and says its policies will not change while Hamas remains in power.

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