Israel agreed to cooperate with a United Nations-authorized investigation into its May 31 raid on a Turkish aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip.
“Israel has nothing to hide,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in announcing the agreement after talking to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon yesterday. “It is in the national interest of the state of Israel to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The probe will be led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, and the commission will include Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a member from Israel, and one from Turkey. The panel will begin its work on Aug. 10 and submit its first progress report by mid-September, the UN said.
Israel’s willingness to take part in the probe reverses its previous refusal to cooperate with any external inquiry into the incident. “Israel has the ability and the right to investigate itself, not to be investigated by any international board,” Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., told Fox News on June 7.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said in a statement she welcomed the new developments and that the U.S. hopes it can lead to eased tensions between Turkey and Israel that can “repair their strong historic ties.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the UN probe “a very important step,” saying in an interview with state news agency Anatolia that the investigation “demonstrates that every UN member is accountable for its actions.”
Ban’s statement thanked the leaders of Israel and Turkey “for their spirit of compromise and forward-looking cooperation.”
He said the panel will “also give me recommendations for the prevention of similar incidents in the future.” Ban said he hopes the agreement will “impact positively on the relationship between Turkey and Israel as well as the overall situation in the Middle East.”
Ban was told by Netanyahu that Israel would take part in the UN panel “in the wake of diplomatic contacts that have been held in recent weeks in order to ensure that this was indeed a panel with a balanced and fair written mandate,” the Israeli government statement said.
The UN panel will receive reports from the Israeli probe headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel.
Israel said it issued numerous warnings in the May incident to the Gaza-bound flotilla to change course for the port of Ashdod and unload there. It said its soldiers were attacked with knives and clubs and seven were wounded, including by gunfire, after people aboard one of the ships managed to grab Israeli firearms.
Nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed in the incident. Activists said they threw the firearms into the sea and that the Israelis instigated the violence.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade of Gaza after the Islamic Hamas movement ousted forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group and seized full control of the territory in 2007. Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections the previous year, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.
Israel launched a three-week military offensive in Gaza in December 2008 that it said was meant to stop the firing of rockets by Hamas and other Palestinian militants into its territory. More than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict.
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.
This year’s raid and Israel’s initial refusal of an international probe strained diplomatic and military relations with Turkey, once its closest ally in the region.
Also today, Israel increased the number of trucks allowed to bring goods into Gaza by two thirds, further relaxing restrictions on access to the territory that it started to loosen in June.
Israeli officials will allow 250 trucks a day to unload goods at the Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza, up from 150 in July and about 80 before that, Raed Fattouh, a liaison officer for the Palestinian Authority, said in a phone interview. Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Gaza coordination office, said the information was accurate.
Israel didn’t participate in a UN panel led by former UN prosecutor and South African judge Richard Goldstone that investigated the 2008 Gaza war. Goldstone’s panel accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and called on them to investigate the charges.