JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel’s cabinet on Monday backed the creation of an internal committee to probe its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in a move swiftly dismissed by both Turkey and the Palestinians.
The committee, which will include two foreign observers, will look into the legal aspects of the operation in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists.
Ankara swiftly dismissed the move, saying Israel was incapable of being “impartial,” and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said setting up an internal committee did not not comply with UN demands.
“The proposition made today for the inquiry committee does not correspond to the request of the Security Council,” Abbas said.
Turkey has threatened to review its ties with Israel if it does not heed calls for an independent probe. “We have no trust at all that Israel… will conduct an impartial investigation,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
The Turkish foreign ministry later said in a statement that Ankara “strongly condemns” Israel’s failure to respond to a proposal by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to set up a commission made up of “one Turkish, one Israeli and three international experts.”
“We expect the international community and primarily the United States… to support this constructive proposal and take action as soon as possible,” it said.
Ban’s office said on Monday that his proposal for a credible international inquiry is still on the table.
“A thorough Israeli investigation is important and could fit with the secretary general’s proposal which would fully meet the international community’s expectations for a credible and impartial investigation,” his spokesman said.
Washington called the Israeli move an “important step forward,” but stressed the inquiry should be carried out promptly and its findings “presented publicly” to the international community.
“We think what Israel announced yesterday is a step in that direction,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Monday, referring to the UN demand for an international probe.
Israel formally announced the three-man committee late on Sunday in a move ratified by the cabinet early on Monday.
It will be chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Yaakov Tirkel, 75, who will work alongside retired major general Amos Horev, 86, and international law professor Shabtai Rosen, 93.
There will be two international observers: Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble, 65, and Ken Watkin, 55, former judge advocate general of the Canadian military.
It was not clear what powers Trimble and Watkin would have, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said they would be unable “to vote in relation to the proceedings and conclusions of the commission.”
The inquiry will run alongside another military probe into the events of May 31, which began last week under retired brigadier general Giora Eiland. Its results will be submitted to the so-called Tirkel Commission.
The ages of the Israeli committee members provoked a sardonic response from commentators, with Nahum Barnea of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot saying the government “has an excellent sense of humour.”
“From the outset it was clear that the committee was only intended for export purposes. According to the conditions dictated by the defence minister, the role of the committee is not to investigate and clarify the quality of the decisions made by the political and military echelons, but only to issue an academic document in the field of international law,” he wrote.
Netanyahu and senior ministers are expected to testify, along with Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and top brass from military intelligence, the Mossad spy agency and the Shabak internal security service, media reported.
But Israel has made clear the committee will not hear direct testimony from troops involved in the raid.
“I am convinced that uncovering the facts will prove that Israel acted in an appropriately defensive fashion in accordance with the highest standards,” Netanyahu told cabinet members on Monday.
“The committee will clarify to the world that Israel acts according to law with responsibility and full transparency,” he said.
But Hamas, the Islamist movement ruling Gaza, said Israel’s continuing refusal to accept an international probe proved its guilt.
“By refusing the formation of an international committee to investigate the massacre, Israel is condemning itself,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP.