Israel U-turns on UN Gaza flotilla probe
Israel's surprise decision to back a UN probe into its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla was taken in a bid to patch up its ties with Turkey, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday. The commando raid in May, which led to nine deaths, caused to a rift in previously close relations.
Israel had until now consistently rejected calls for an international independent investigation, angering Turkey.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday announced that the four-member panel would investigate the 31 May commando raid that left nine Turkish activists aboard the flotilla dead.
Media reports suggested Israel had come under heavy pressure from Washington to comply with the UN probe.
But the Israeli official denied reports that Israel had caved in to pressure. "Israel took its own decision independently," said Israeli Prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The volte face followed weeks of contact between Israel and the UN and came after deliberations by top Israeli ministers to ensure that "this was indeed a panel with a balanced and fair written mandate," Netanyahu said.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, Monday hailed the establishment of the UN panel, and stressed the panel was meant to complement national investigations by Israel and Turkey.
The four-man panel will include Israeli and Turkish participation and is to begin its deliberations on 10 August, the UN said on Monday.
Ankara denounced the raid as a violation of international law, immediately recalled its ambassador and cancelled three planned joint military exercises with the Jewish state.
Turkey says Israel must apologise for the raid, pay compensation and lift the blockade of Gaza for the recovery of bilateral ties.
Israel says its commandos used force only after they were attacked with sticks and stabbed as soon as they landed on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara.
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