- Associated Press - Monday, June 28, 2010

JERUSALEM | The Israeli commission of inquiry into last month’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will summon the country’s prime minister to testify, the chief investigator announced Monday as the five-member panel officially began work.

Alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defense minister and military chief of staff also will face the commission investigating the events leading up to the deaths on May 31 of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on a ship trying to break the Gaza blockade, commission head Jacob Turkel told reporters.

The panel’s main job, Mr. Turkel said, was to investigate whether Israel’s actions leading up to the incident, which took place in international waters, “meet the norms of international law.” He said public hearings would begin within weeks.

The incident occurred on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was intercepted by helicopter-borne Israeli commandos as it sailed in a six-ship flotilla carrying pro-Palestinian activists and supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Five ships were commandeered without incident, but some of the 600 activists on board the Mavi Marmara, owned by a Turkish Islamic charity, actively resisted, and the soldiers opened fire.

The soldiers, seven of whom were wounded, said their lives were in danger. Activists called their actions self-defense.

Although Israel has said the blockade is necessary to keep weapons out of the hands of Hamas, it has come under heavy international criticism over the raid. The appointment of the commission was meant to defuse widespread calls for an international inquiry.

The move has been only partially successful: While the U.S. has voiced support, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants an international inquiry as well as the Israeli panel.

Some in Israel and abroad have criticized the Israeli commission’s limited mandate — it will not be questioning the soldiers involved in the raid, though it will have access to military investigations — and for the advanced age of its members.

Beside Mr. Turkel, 75, a retired Supreme Court justice, the commission includes a retired general, Amos Horev, 86; and Shabtai Rosenne, a 93-year-old international jurist and diplomat who required help from security guards to reach his seat at the table.

A harsh response has come from Turkey, whose government unofficially backed the flotilla’s attempt to challenge a blockade maintained by a country that was until recently one of Turkey’s close allies.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and on Monday announced that some Israeli military flights would no longer be allowed in Turkish airspace.

Anger at Israel over the flotilla deaths comes at a time of little progress in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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