Israel Military Investigating Deadly Flotilla Raid
June 8, 2010 - 5:58 PMIsrael's military said it will have its own experts examine what caused a naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla to turn deadly, while nations led by Turkey condemned the operation and intensified demands for an international investigation.
Turkey's president released a statement Tuesday from 21 Asian countries meeting at a security summit that said "all member states, except one, expressed their grave concern and condemnation for the actions undertaken by the Israeli Defense Forces."
President Abdullah Gul said 21 of the 22 nations in the grouping, which includes Israel, also called on the Jewish state to end its blockade of Gaza and to agree to an international investigation of the incident.
An overwhelming majority of the countries also called for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East and for Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and place all of its nuclear facilities under the safeguard of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Gul said.
Israel managed to block a joint declaration by the group, whose decisions require consensus, that would have condemned the raid, forcing Turkey to issue a separate statement attached to the declaration.
Israel is widely believed to have a sizable nuclear arsenal. Israel refuses to confirm or deny the suspicions.
Israel's so-called policy of nuclear ambiguity is a cornerstone of its military deterrence. It has long said that a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace must precede such weapons bans.
Israel has not signed the nonproliferation treaty, which requires members to open nuclear facilities to inspection and to disarm.
In the May 31 raid, Israeli commandos rappelled onto the deck of one of the ships trying to break Israel's three-year-old blockade of Gaza. The soldiers were intercepted by a crowd of activists, setting off a clash that killed nine men - eight Turks and a Turkish American.
Israel says its soldiers began shooting only after a mob of pro-Palestinian activists attacked them - a version backed up by video footage released by the army. But the activists and their supporters say Israeli commandos needlessly opened fire.
The incident triggered a storm of criticism of Israel. Russia's powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, added Moscow's weight to the calls for an international probe.
"It has to be investigated specially," Putin said at a news conference in Istanbul with Turkey's prime minister, a fierce critic of Israel since its war in Gaza 18 months ago.
The Israeli experts will review several internal military investigations already under way. The military said it expects findings by July 4 into what went wrong with the naval operation.
Israel has so far failed to defuse the calls for an international investigation or reduce pressure to end the blockade. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Gaza's Hamas rulers from importing weapons.
Turkey unofficially sponsored the flotilla's lead ship, where the violence occurred, and the two countries' relations have suffered further strain since the raid.
In addition to the military inquiry, Israel's government is seeking a formula for a broader probe that would defuse calls for an impartial investigation.
Senior Israeli Cabinet ministers on Monday proposed establishing a commission of Israeli jurists, joined by foreign observers, whose mandate would be to examine the legality of the Gaza blockade and the commandos' conduct.
The proposal has been shown to U.S. and international officials to see if it meets their criteria for an impartial probe, government officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been officially announced.
The U.S. Embassy had no comment on the details of the proposal.
International mediator Tony Blair appeared to back the Israeli outline in an interview on Israel's Channel 10 TV. "Any investigation has to be full and impartial, and there may be some international element that can be part of it," he said.
At the U.N., where the Security Council called for an investigation, spokesman Faran Haq said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "understands that Israel is still considering how and if to bring an international element into the investigative process."
Past experience has made Israel wary of letting outside powers lead an investigation.
A U.N.-appointed panel headed by veteran war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone accused Israel of war crimes in the Gaza offensive in the winter of 2008-2009. Israel rejected the accusations.
In Gaza Tuesday, Palestinians said they retrieved the body of two more militant divers killed in a clash with Israeli sailors off the coast a day earlier. Israel's navy said Monday that it had opened fire on Palestinians in diving suits whom it spotted in the waters off Gaza. The military claimed, without providing details, that its forces prevented an attack on Israel.
Four bodies were retrieved on Monday and Gaza health official Dr. Moiaya Hassanain said two more bodies had been found Tuesday.
Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said Monday that members of its marine unit were training in Gaza's waters.
Hacaoglu reported from Istanbul, Turkey. Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Edith M. Lederer at the U.N. contributed to this report.
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