Israel asks UN to shelve inquiry into flotilla killings


ISRAELI defence minister Ehud Barak has asked UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to shelve plans for an international probe into the naval interception of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, urging him to give the Israeli inquiry a chance.

The Israeli government set up its own investigation into last month’s commando raid after an international outcry over the deaths of nine Turkish activists on the largest ship in the six-vessel flotilla that was intercepted in international waters.

The five-member panel set up by Israel is comprised of two Israeli jurists and a retired major general ,and two foreign observers, former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble and retired Canadian military prosecutor Ken Watkin.

The UN called for an impartial and credible inquiry into the raid and proposed that representatives from both Israel and Turkey be part of a UN-investigation.

“We conveyed our position that as long as flotillas are on their way , it would be best to shelve the international investigation while we progress with our own internal probe, which is independent and credible,” Mr Barak told reporters after meeting with Mr Ban at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr Ban said last Friday he would press ahead with the establishment of an independent inquiry, which would include both Turkish and Israeli participation.

“Ive been telling them that my proposal is not incompatible with Israel’s national investigation,” Mr Ban said.

Mr Barak also commented on a Lebanese ship which is expected to sail to Gaza in the coming days via Cyprus, warning that Israel held the Lebanese government responsible. He said in a brief statement that “there could be friction that could lead to violence, which is totally unnecessary”.

This week Israel announced an easing of its economic siege on Gaza, but the maritime blockade remained in force. Israel has made it clear that it will continue to intercept any ships making their way to Gaza and escort them to Israel’s southern port of Ashdod where they will be searched for weapons.

Mr Barak said Gaza still presented a serious threat to the safety of Israeli civilians.

“For Israel, the Gaza Strip today is an Iranian military base three km from the closest Israeli city, and 60 km from Tel Aviv. Hamas governs the Gaza Strip forcefully, and cruelly suppresses its political opponents,” he said.

According to Israeli military sources the same naval commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara on May 31st will be in action again to prevent the Lebanese ship reaching Gaza.

An Israeli military source said that all scenarios were being considered as the navy prepared to stop the Lebanese ship.

“The bottom line is that we will act in the same manner – with the necessary improvements to the tactical problems that were raised. If we find terrorists aboard the vessels, we will not hesitate to harm them. If we find innocent civilians, we will escort them to shore peacefully,” said a military source.

According to Israeli media reports one scenario being considered is that Hizbullah or other groups may try to infiltrate a suicide bomber on board the aid ship to blow himself up when Israeli troops board the vessel.

An Iranian Red Crescent aid ship is also due to set sail for Gaza on Sunday carrying 1,100 tons of equipment including medicine and food supplies.

Meanwhile, following criticism from Washington, Israeli leaders have stressed that there is still room for compromise over the Jerusalem municipality plans to demolish 22 Palestinian homes to make way for a new tourist centre in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan.

Mr Barak indicated that the project could be put on hold for a few months if such a delay served Israeli interests.