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Middle East

Pyjama photo forces Netanyahu into U-turn on Gaza flotilla inquiry

Israel is expected to broaden the powers of an internal inquiry into the botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May in the wake of a barrage of claims that its investigation lacks any credibility. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, appeared to cave in to domestic pressure after the committee was mocked in the Israeli media as a whitewash designed to defend the assault on 31 May that resulted in the death of nine Turkish nationals. A photograph of one 93-year-old panellist in his pyjamas looking at documents drew particular derision.

The panel, headed by Jacob Turkel, an Israeli Supreme Court justice, opened its inquiry on Monday. Mr Netanyahu's office said in a statement that Mr Turkel had requested that the investigating commission be empowered to summon witnesses to give testimony under oath. "There is no reason not to give positive consideration to this request," the statement said. It added that the government would consider a separate request to expand the committee. According to Channel 2 TV, Mr Turkel threatened to resign if Mr Netanyahu did not widen the panel's powers. Sources close to Mr Turkel refuted the claim.

Israel had previously rejected UN calls for an international probe before reluctantly agreeing to an internal inquiry. Echoing other Israeli views in the media, Yedioth Ahronoth's Nahum Barnea wrote that the "Turkel Committee was born to be a fig leaf". He added, "the fig leaf wanted to be thought of as a lion, not a fig leaf. The fig leaf did not like the jokes about the advanced age of its members, its pathetic powers, the restrictions on hearing witnesses."

The media has taken aim at the appointment of Shabtai Rosen, a 93-year-old law professor, photographed at home in his pyjamas with a dossier of the case on his lap, his carer nearby.

Concerns have also been aired over the impartiality of David Trimble, one of the international observers. Lord Trimble, the former Northern Ireland First Minister, recently joined a new advocacy group Friends of Israel, and is seen as a close ally of Israel.