Israel to hold internal probes into Gaza flotilla raid

Israel plans to hold its own limited probes into its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that fall short of calls for an international inquiry into the commando operation that drew world condemnation.

The probes will look exclusively into the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and the May 31 raid on an aid flotilla that sought to break it, Minister Without Portfolio Benny Begin told public radio on Tuesday.

But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his country would raise at the United Nations the question of who should investigate Israel’s deadly raid.

“Unfortunately, this act happened in international waters, which is another source for concern,” Putin said during a press conference on the sidelines of an Istanbul summit on security in Asia.

Turkey sought a fresh condemnation of Israel from regional leaders gathered for the summit.

The hosts have been calling for an independent fact-finding panel under UN supervision, a demand rejected by Israel, which insists an internal investigation is more than adequate.

In Israel, media criticised hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for restricting the probe’s mandate to theoretical legal questions, saying it would be little more than a “committee-lite” or an “investigative committee without investigators”.

“It is not supposed to investigate whether the blockade policy as a whole is either effective or justified … And that is the recipe by means of which the government is trying to ensure the failure of the investigation into the flotilla events,” the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot said.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak has made it clear that the commandos who carried out the deadly raid should not be put on the stand.

“I insist that the combatants, who carried out a task that we imposed on them and who had to make decisions in split seconds about whether to pull the trigger without taking legal considerations into account, not be questioned,” he said.

Israel is reportedly considering a team made up of Israeli jurists and former diplomats as well as two foreign observers.

This would fall far short of the independent, international investigation several world leaders have called for in the wake of the commando raid in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Crippling embargo
The decision taken by senior ministers still has to be ratified by the full Cabinet, and media said Israel is coordinating with Washington in the hopes of winning US backing.

US support is seen as crucial in helping prevent further diplomatic backlash from the raid that caused worldwide outrage.

Ankara, furious over the deaths of the Turks — one of whom also holds US citizenship — vowed that normalisation of ties would be out of the question unless Israel accepts an international inquiry.

Israel, which imposes a crippling embargo on the Gaza Strip, insists it must halt Gaza-bound vessels because they could be carrying weapons for Hamas — the territory’s Islamist rulers who are committed to the destruction of Israel.

“The blockade and supervision of goods brought by sea to Gaza are necessary to prevent the increase of rockets, missiles, weapons and war materials,” Barak said on Monday in Parliament where the government easily defeated three no-confidence motions over the raid.

Israel says its commandos were attacked with clubs and knives when they boarded the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, which led the six-ship flotilla, and fired in self-defence.

Activists who were on board insisted the Israelis opened fire as soon as they rappelled down from helicopters on to the deck.

The Israeli military announced late on Monday that it had appointed a team led by a reserve general to examine and learn from the raid and submit its conclusions by July 4. — AFP

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