No secret deal on Gaza flotilla probe: UN chief

UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. chief on Monday denied reports that the world body has struck a secret deal making the Israeli military off-limits for a U.N. probe of Israel’s deadly May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

By (Reuters)

Published: Tue 10 Aug 2010, 11:33 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 5:47 AM

The Israeli government, however, made clear that its soldiers would not be available to U.N. investigators.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the formation of a four-member panel of inquiry last week into the raid at sea in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists after boarding their vessel, which was attempting to bring aid to the Gaza Strip.

Ban was asked at a monthly news conference if the United Nations had agreed that Israeli military commanders could not be interviewed by the panel, which is headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and includes veteran Israeli and Turkish diplomats.

“There was no such agreement behind the scenes,” he said.

“Their main work will be to review and examine the reports of the national investigations and liaise with the domestic authorities,” Ban said. “Whatever is needed beyond that, they will have to discuss among themselves in close coordination with the national government authorities.”

The raid led to a sharp deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations and forced Israel to ease the blockade of Gaza, which the Jewish state says is to prevent Palestinian Hamas militants from acquiring the military capability to attack Israel.

Israel threatens to withdraw cooperation

After reacting coolly to the idea of a U.N. investigation — Israel has already completed its own military investigation and started a civilian one — Israel eventually agreed to cooperate with an investigative panel set up by Ban.

But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said in Jerusalem that in the event Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers are called by the panel to give evidence it could withdraw its cooperation.

“Israel will not cooperate with, and will not participate in, a panel that demands to investigate Israeli soldiers,” he said.

The Obama administration strongly urged Israel to cooperate with the panel, diplomats in New York have told Reuters.

In addition to reviewing the results of the Turkish and Israeli investigations, U.N. officials say Ban’s panel will consider ways to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Ban said the panel will hold its first meeting on Tuesday in New York, adding that it has “a robust mandate.”

Western diplomats in New York, however, say privately that the specifics of the panel’s mandate remain unclear.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice infuriated Turkey last week when she issued a statement saying that the panel was “not a substitute for those national investigations” and its focus was “appropriately on the future.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry later summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Ankara and expressed its irritation at what a Turkish official told Reuters was an “alternative interpretation” of Ban’s investigative panel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an Israeli inquiry on Monday that Turkey ignored repeated warnings and appeals “at the highest level” to halt the aid flotilla but did nothing to stop it.

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