Lord Trimble, the former leader of the Ulster Unionists, is to be a foreign observer on an official Israeli inquiry into the naval commando raid on a Gaza-bound Palestinian flotilla which cost nine Turkish lives a fortnight ago.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has proposed a commission headed by the former Supreme Court judge Jacob Turkel, and including two non-voting foreign observers. The other will be Ken Watkin, a former advocate general of the Canadian armed forces.
Its remit will be limited to whether the halting of the flotilla, the naval blockade on Gaza and the methods of enforcing it conformed with international law. At the same time it will examine the actions and "identity" of the organisers of the flotilla. Some Israeli critics have accused IHH, the Turkish NGO which helped to run the flotilla, of having links with Hamas.
Lord Trimble, awarded a Nobel peace prize for his part in the Northern Ireland peace process, has in the past defended the decision by Israel and the international community not to talk to Hamas, arguing that comparisons between the Islamic faction and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are misplaced.
The inquiry announcement came amid hopes that Mr Netanyahu is softening his line on the three-year-old blockade of Gaza. Tony Blair, the international community's Middle East envoy, has been called to report on his negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister to a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg today. The meeting is expected to reinforce calls for an early end to the blockade.
Mr Blair told the BBC he was hoping for "significant movement" on the blockade in the "next few days". He added: "As Benjamin Netanyahu has quite rightly said, there is a way to distinguish between the security aspect and the daily life aspect. And if we keep that distinction in our mind then I think we will get the right answer and we can start that quickly."
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