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Israel seeks internal inquiry of deadly flotilla raid

Israeli officials said Sunday they would reject U.N. pressure to establish an international commission to investigate last week’s deadly raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Instead, leaders are leaning toward an Israeli-led inquiry that might include international observers or participation, officials said.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, told “Fox News Sunday” that Israel was “rejecting an international commission,” as proposed over the weekend by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban suggested a panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer with representatives from the U.S., Israel and Turkey. More than half of the flotilla’s activists were from Turkey, including the nine killed when Israel raided the ship, to prevent it from breaking its three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

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Israel has rarely submitted voluntarily to United Nations review, saying its enemies dominate the organization and that U.N. probes are one-sided. Israel was furious over a U.N. Human Rights Council panel investigating its Gaza Strip offensive in 2008-09 and refused to cooperate with it. The so-called Goldstone Commission led by a respected South African jurist accused Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during Israel’s 22-day assault in 2008-2009.

“We’ve had experience with the U.N. and kangaroo courts,” said an Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Likud Party leaders that Israel was “looking into other possibilities” for investigating the raid. No decision has been made, officials said. According to Oren, the government is working closely with the United States to devise a process that will be seen as credible.

Several Israeli Cabinet leaders expressed support for a government-run panel that would either include international observers or share its findings with an international body. Most also said they would endorse only a commission that does not investigate the specific actions of Israeli soldiers during the operation, focusing instead on policymaking and operational planning.

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Critics said Netanyahu should announce a decision quickly to prevent international pressure from building and cut off calls for an outside investigation.

“The government is procrastinating and thus may visit upon us a Goldstone-style international investigation,” Haim Ramon, chairman of the opposition Kadima Council, told Israel Radio on Sunday.

In his Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his attack on the activists who organized the pro-Palestinian ships that attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade, calling them “thugs from a terrorist organization.”

Nine Turkish activists were killed May 31 when Israeli commandos raided their ship, the Mavi Marmara, and encountered fierce resistance from some of the passengers. Several countries have condemned Israel for using excessive force. Israel blamed the activists for attacking its soldiers with iron bars and knives. Netanyahu alleged that those who resisted appeared to have boarded in a different city from the rest of the passengers and had not been checked. Blockade organizers deny have denied that claim.

In a letter to Netanyahu made public Sunday, a group of top Israeli naval reserves officers said it was inappropriate to blame flotilla organizers for the raid, which they characterized as a “failure,” according to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. The group, delivering one of the first public criticisms from Israel’s military community, called for an “external inquiry and said raid commanders should shoulder the blame.

A seventh protest ship, which had been delayed due to mechanical issues, the Rachel Corrie, arrived Saturday off the coast of Gaza, but it was intercepted without violence. Most of its passengers were deported Sunday.

Free Gaza, the group that organized the aid flotilla, is vowing to send additional ships in the future.

Meanwhile, fallout from the incident continued Sunday. South Korea downgraded this week’s planned visit by Israeli President Shimon Peres from “official” to “working.” Vietnam had previously called off Peres’ stop there.

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American rock band the Pixies cancelled their upcoming tour date in Israel, saying in a statement that “events beyond all our control have conspired against us. We can only hope for better days, in which we will finally present the long-awaited visit of the Pixies in Israel.” Two British bands, Klaxons and Gorillaz, also canceled appearances.

And an Iranian spokesman said the elite Revolutionary Guard were prepared to supply a military escort to cargo ships seeking to break the Israeli blockade.

" Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities,” Ali Shirazi, a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com


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