Israel Rejects Demands for International Probe of Gaza Aid Flotilla Raid
Israel turned down demands for an international probe of its raid on a ship bringing aid to the Gaza Strip, which left nine dead, saying it would launch its own investigation.
“We are rejecting the idea of an international commission,” Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. said, speaking on “Fox News Sunday. ‘‘We are discussing with the Obama administration the way in which our inquiry will take place.’’
Calls for an international investigation began after nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli commandos raided their boat, one of six in a flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s three-year blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza. The raid sparked calls for a lifting of the blockade, which Israel says is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the area.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said any probe of the May 31 raid must be conducted by Israelis though it may include international observers.
‘‘It has to be an Israeli committee,’’ Lieberman said on Army Radio. ‘‘There is no problem with high level, well known international observers serving as partners in the process.’’
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon discussed yesterday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‘‘options for moving forward with the investigation,’’ a statement on the UN website said.
That proposed commission would have members from Turkey and Israel as well as others appointed by the UN and would be headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, an aide to Erdogan said in a telephone interview from the western city of Bursa, speaking on the usual condition of anonymity. Palmer didn’t reply to a voicemail message left on his cellphone in New Zealand today.
‘‘Israel has the ability and the right to investigate itself, not to be investigated by any international board,’’ Oren said. ‘‘I don’t think the United States would want an international inquiry into its military activities in Afghanistan, for example.’’
The U.S. has declined to specifically criticize Israeli actions. It backed a June 1 UN Security Council resolution that condemned the violence that led to the deaths of the aid activists, and called for an impartial inquiry.
Turkey, which along with South Africa withdrew its ambassador from Israel over the incident, says an Israeli investigation wouldn’t meet that criterion.
Israeli State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will participate tomorrow in a parliamentary committee discussion on the government’s performance.
‘‘There is a real need to examine ourselves and the quality of the decision-making process before and after the operation,” said Yoel Hasson, the head of the state comptroller committee in parliament.
Criticism within Israel of the flotilla operation has focused largely on the execution of the raid and not the blockade. A survey of Israeli Jews published in the Maariv daily on June 2 showed 94.8 percent agreeing that it was necessary to stop the boats, with 62.7 percent saying it should have been handled in a different manner. Only 8.1 percent thought Netanyahu should resign. The pollsters interviewed a representative sample of 400 Israeli Jews and the results had a 4.9 percent margin of error.
Israel’s benchmark stock TA-25 stock index fell 1.9 percent in Tel Aviv at the close.
Israel has said it issued numerous warnings to the Gaza- bound flotilla asking it to change course for the port of Ashdod and unload there, before it seized the vessels.
The other five vessels, as well as a separate boat that arrived yesterday, were taken over peacefully.
The raid on the flotilla, and the deaths of the activists, has focused world attention on the blockade of Gaza.
“The time has come to lift the closure and find an appropriate alternative,” Israeli Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, a member of the Labor Party, said on Army Radio.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the situation in Gaza is “unsustainable” and top Israeli ministers met June 3 to discuss ways to change how the blockade on Gaza is implemented, a senior Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The European Union, Russia and Turkey have called on Israel to end the blockade.
Israel has been blockading Gaza since Hamas ousted forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group and seized full control in 2007 after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections the previous year. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.
Israel says its blockade is legal because it is in “a state of armed conflict” with Hamas. Some countries, such as Turkey, dispute the legality of the blockade.
Some 330 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since the end of a 2008 Israeli military operation in the area, killing one foreign worker last March, the Israeli army said. Israel says it launched the 2008 operation to stop the firing of rockets into its territory. More than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict.
Israel expelled seven passengers and crew from the 19 aboard the aid ship intercepted this weekend and expects to send home at least another seven before midnight, said Sabine Haddad, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman. She said five Irish activists would leave either tonight or tomorrow.
The Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla in the May 31 confrontation and yesterday’s attempt by the MV Rachel Corrie to breach the blockade said they are planning another flotilla in two months. The Rachel Corrie was named after an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting home demolitions in the Gaza Strip in 2003.
“We are getting a huge amount of donations, about 2,000 euros a day,” said spokeswoman Audrey Bomse. “We will have no problem getting ships.”
Israel says that on May 31 its soldiers were attacked with knives and clubs and seven were wounded, including by gunfire after people aboard the ship managed to grab Israeli firearms. Activists have said they threw the firearms into the sea and that the Israelis instigated the violence.
A Turkish autopsy found that several of those killed were shot multiple times and from the back at close range, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported yesterday, citing Yalcin Buyuk, vice chairman of the council of forensic medicine.
Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper today published photos showing what it said were bloodied Israeli commandos, and activists standing at a door with what appeared to be iron bars.
Palestinians say the restrictions on food imports and construction materials have created a humanitarian crisis. Israel says it restricts imports because building materials and even some foods can be used to build rockets, bunkers or bombs.
Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas leaders say they will renounce violence when Israel withdraws from territory occupied in 1967 and allows Palestinians to return to areas in Israel from which they fled in 1948.
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