Israel said yesterday it will take part in a UN investigation into a raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound flotilla in which nine Turkish activists were killed. The move allowed UN head Ban Ki-moon to announce the creation of a panel that would investigate the confrontation after activists tried to breach Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The decision marks a departure for Israel, which has frequently viewed the United Nations with suspicion and accused many U.N. bodies of being unfairly biased against the Jewish state.
"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 in a statement.
Israel refused to cooperate with an earlier investigation into last year's war in the Gaza Strip conducted by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which it accuses of disproportionately focusing on Israel. The inquiry concluded that Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers both committed war crimes.
Both the commandos and the activists on the vessel, the Mavi Marmara, said they were acting in self-defence during the confrontation, which has strained relations between Turkey and Israel.
The four-member panel will be chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and co-chaired by outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and include a Turkish and an Israeli representative.
The deal was reached after what Mr Ban described as two months of "intensive consultation with the leaders of Israel and Turkey," including Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and last minute talks over the weekend. He thanked both leaders "for their spirit of compromise and forward looking attitude."
The announcement came after a man was killed and several more injured yesterday as suspected Islamist militants fired several rockets towards the Red Sea resort of Eilat, a top holiday destination in Israel.
A rocket detonated outside the luxury Intercontinental hotel in Aqaba, a Jordanian resort just 10km from Eilat, killing a 51-year-old taxi driver and injuring five more. A second rocket landed in a field outside Eilat, two more in the Red Sea and another in Jordan, Israeli authorities said.
Israeli and Jordanian military sources said that the rockets were probably fired from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, a desert region that borders Israel and has been a launching point for rocket attacks against Israel in the past.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks before 8am yesterday, suspicion is expected to fall on Islamist militants with links to Hamas. The attacks come at a particularly sensitive time as Washington intensifies its efforts to rebuild trust between the Palestinians and the Israelis in last-ditch bid to bring them back to direct peace talks.
"There were a series of booms. The building shook a little," local resident Avi Cohen said. "If rockets fired from Sinai start exploding here, this is liable to ruin the tourist economy during the best month of the year."
The Israeli military said that it was investigating the origin of the attack and was working closely with the Jordanian and Egyptian authorities.
The Sinai Peninsula has long been a security headache for the Egyptian authorities, who have struggled to contain the militant Islamists and Bedouin tribes who operate key smuggling routes there. The sandy routes of the Sinai have proved a vital channel for bringing smuggled goods to Gaza, including weapons to Hamas. The rocket attacks come just days after Palestinian militants stepped up their attacks on Israeli soil from Gaza. A rocket landed in Ashkelon, an Israeli city just north of Gaza, causing structural damage.
The attack, the first of its kind in a more than a year, prompted Israel to respond with air strikes in central Gaza City that killed a senior Hamas militant. Israel then shelled smuggling tunnels that connect Gaza with Egypt over the weekend after another rocket was fired into the southern Negev.
Israel has promised to hold Hamas responsible for any rocket attacks fired from Gaza, although it is not clear which group was responsible for the recent attacks. Islamist Jihad, which has rejected Hamas's calls for a ceasefire with Israel, has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the past.
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