Netanyahu rejects UN-led inquiry into aid ship shootings

Group of Israeli naval reserve officers calls for commanders to be held to account
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The Independent Online

Israel has made it clear it would not accept a UN plan for a multinational investigation into the lethal commando raid on a Turkish passenger ship carrying aid and hundreds of activists to Gaza.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had put a proposal to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for an international committee to carry out an inquiry into the fatal shootings by Israeli forces of nine men on board the Mavi Marmara.

The proposal followed a call last week by the UN Security Council for an impartial investigation.

But Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the US, said, "We are rejecting an international commission." Instead he told the Fox News Channel that Israel was discussing with the US administration "a way in which our enquiry will take place". He added: "Israel is a democratic nation. Israel has the ability and the right to investigate itself, not to be investigated by any international board."

By contrast, a group of 10 apparently senior Israeli naval reserve officers last night wrote to Mr Netanyahu demanding an external enquiry and rejecting "widespread claims" of a failure of intelligence or public relations. Instead, the officers said, "We think that the plan was doomed to failure from the beginning."

The letter added: "We protest the fact that responsibility for the tragic results was immediately thrust onto the organisers of the flotilla. This demonstrates contempt for the responsibility that belongs principally to the hierarchy of commanders and those who approved the mission. This shows contempt for the values of professionalism, the purity of weapons and for human lives."

Mr Netanyahu convened a meeting of the seven-strong inner group of senior Cabinet ministers last night, partly to discuss the form of an inquiry that US President Barack Obama said last week should be "of international standards". Officials in Jerusalem insisted that Mr Netanyahu had only told his weekly meeting of the Cabinet that earlier reports that he had accepted the UN plan were untrue, and that discussions were continuing. Israeli officials say the committee would have included representatives from Israel, Turkey, and would have been chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, the former New Zealand Prime Minister who is an expert on maritime law.

Israel insists that its troops only opened fire after coming under heavy attack with knives, metal rods, and two pistols snatched from the arriving commandos, seven of whom it says were wounded. Photographs that were published by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and also obtained by Reuters show bleeding and cowering Israeli troops on board the Mavi Marmara surrounded by activists.

Salih Bilici, spokesman for IHH, the Islamist Turkish foundation that helped to organise the flotilla, and which Israel accuses of links with Hamas, said the pictures had been taken by one of its members.

But the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told CNN Israel's rejection of an international inquiry showed it wanted to cover up the facts of the raid. "We want to know the facts," he said. "If Israel rejects this, it means it is also another proof of their guilt."

Steps were under way yesterday for the immediate deportation of the 11 passengers and nine crew members from the Irish vessel Rachel Corrie, which was boarded by the Israeli military without incident on Saturday and diverted to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Contrasting the Rachel Corrie with the Mavi Marmara, Mr Netanyahu told the Cabinet yesterday that a smaller group of "violent extremists" had boarded the latter ship separately at a "different city" from hundreds of other passengers and with the deliberate intention of clashing with troops.

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