Israel govt defeats no-confidence bid over flotilla raid

Israeli govt defeats no-trust motions over raid on Gaza-bound activist aid ships.

Jerusalem: The Israeli government on Monday easily defeated no-confidence motions over its May 31 raid on Gaza-bound activist aid ships but faced more calls for a probe of the deadly commando operation.
A motion by the main opposition party Kadima, which objected to the handling of the raid, was defeated 59-25 while another two brought by Arab parties opposed to the Gaza blockade both went down 81-8.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak defended last week`s raid when special forces stormed the flotilla in international waters, killing nine Turks aboard one of the six ships.

He told MPs, however, that Israel would undertake an internal "examination" of events and of whether the blockade and its implementation were in keeping with international law

"We will draw conclusions on both the political front and the security level," Barak said, while stressing that the blockade was essential to keep weaponry out of Hamas`s hands.

The Israeli army announced late Monday that it had charged a team featuring generals in the reserves with examining and learning from the operation.

The team would have to submit its conclusions by July 4, it said in a statement.

Barak acknowledged the violence on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara "was not the result we wanted" but stressed that Israel needed to take extraordinary measures to protect itself.

"This is not Canada and not Finland," he said during the parliamentary debate, pointing out that Israel faces threats from the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza, from Hezbollah in Lebanon and from Iran.

But US Vice President Joe Biden said Washington was eyeing "new ways" to deal with the blockade, which has been in the spotlight since last week`s pre-dawn naval raid. And Ankara, furious over the deaths of the Turks -- one of whom also holds US citizenship -- vowed that normalisation of ties would be out of the question unless Israel accepts an international inquiry.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul that if Israel continues to reject calls for such a probe "it would mean that there are certain facts they want to hide."

But Israel insisted it was capable of holding itself to account. "We have no plans to put the soldiers through questioning, either in English or in Hebrew," Barak said.

Israel says it must stop vessels from travelling to Gaza since they could be carrying weapons for Hamas -- an Islamist movement committed to the destruction of Israel. And it insists that the aid which activists want to deliver to Gaza in defiance of the blockade is not needed.

"In Gaza, there are 1.5 million people. Only one of them is truly in need of humanitarian assistance," Barak said in reference to soldier Gilad Shalit, now 23, who has been held by Hamas since he was captured in a June 2006 cross-border raid.

In another development on Monday, Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinian "commandos" who were on a boat off Gaza wearing diving suits. Israel`s military said it had attacked "a squad of terrorists" on their way to launch an attack.

But survivor Abu al-Walid told there were no weapons in the boat and that the seven Al-Aqsa Martyrs` Brigades members on board were doing swimming training. Two escaped and one went missing, he said.

A parliamentary committee meanwhile recommended that the plenum vote to strip Arab Israeli MP Haneen Zuabi of some of her parliamentary privileges for taking part in the blockade-busting bid.

"The time has come to show a yellow card to Arab lawmakers, especially to Haneen Zuabi who is an accomplice in the attempt to kill soldiers," said Michael Ben-Ari of the rightwing National Union party.

Zuabi for her part decried what she called an "atmosphere of incitement" against her. "They are portraying me as a terrorist because I am critical" of Israel`s policies, she told. On the international front, Biden stressed that efforts were under way to rethink the blockade.

"We are consulting closely with Egypt, as well as our other partners, on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security and political aspects of the situation in Gaza," he said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Bureau Report

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