Israel accepts UN probe into flotilla raid

Israel today agreed to take part in a UN investigation of its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed UN chief Ban Ki-moon of the decision.

The panel will be set up by Mr Ban, who has been pressing Israel to cooperate.

“Today, Israel informed the secretary general of the United Nations that we will participate in a panel set up by the secretary general to look into the flotilla incident,” a government spokesman said.

“Ultimately we are sure that the facts are on our side. We have no problem whatsoever with a credible, objective panel.”

The decision marks a departure for Israel, which has frequently viewed the United Nations with suspicion and accused many UN bodies of being unfairly biased against it.

The move allowed Mr Ban to formally announce the creation of an investigation panel into the incident in which nine Turkish activists died after being shot by Israeli commandos boarding their ship.

“I sincerely hope that this will contribute to the peace process as well as improvement of relationship between Israel and Turkey,” Mr Ban said. The panel will include both Turkish and Israeli representatives.

The flotilla had been trying to breach Israel’s three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. Both sides have said they were acting in self-defence during the confrontation, which has strained relations between Turkey and Israel.

“Israel has nothing to hide. The opposite is true. It is in Israel’s national interest to ensure that the factual truth about the entire flotilla incident will be brought to light and the entire world, and that is precisely the principle we are promoting,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Mr Ban said the investigation panel will be co-chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. He did not identify the Israeli and Turkish members.

The deal was reached after what Mr Ban described as two months of “intensive consultation with the leaders of Israel and Turkey,” and last minute talks over the weekend. He thanked both leaders “for their spirit of compromise and forward looking attitude.”

He said the panel will start work on August 10 and submit its first progress report by mid-September.

Mr Ban hope it would meet the UN Security Council’s call on June 1 for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”

Israel refused to cooperate with an earlier investigation into last year’s war in the Gaza Strip conducted by the UN Human Rights Council, which it accuses of disproportionately focusing on Israel. That council’s probe concluded that Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers both committed war crimes.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said Israel relayed its consent “after political contacts that took place in the past few weeks with the objective of ensuring that the panel and its written mandate will be balanced and fair.”

There was no reaction from Turkey, which withdrew its ambassador and scaled back relations with Israel following the flotilla incident.

Turkey has said it would not repair relations until Israel agreed to an international investigation.

Israel imposed its blockade of the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants seized power there three years ago. Israel has said the measures were needed to prevent Hamas from arming, but the blockade has brought Gaza’s economy to a virtual standstill. Under heavy international pressure, Israel has eased the blockade since the outcry following the flotilla raid.

Israel is conducting a separate investigation into the legality of the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza and the military’s actions in enforcing it.

An Israeli military probe criticised flawed intelligence gathering and planning in confronting the flotilla, but stated the soldiers did nothing wrong.

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