Israel to form committee to probe flotilla attack

The panel will also include observers from the US and European Union.

Jerusalem: Under intense all-round criticism, Israel has decided to set up a committee headed by a former Supreme Court judge to probe the deadly raid aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship that left nine activists dead.

Israel and the US have agreed on the nature of the Israeli investigative committee to look into the May 31 attack, and the panel will include observers from the US and European Union.

After close high-level deliberations for several days the US has proposed to model the committee in a fashion similar to the one that investigated the sinking of a South Korean ship by North Korea, daily Ha`aretz reported today.

An official announcement on the committee is likely to be made later in the day by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but the declaration could be deferred to tomorrow evening, the report said.

Netanyahu will also announce the composition of the committee and its powers.

At the US` insistence, the committee will be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice to give the panel greater credibility and the PMO is said to have reached out to former justice Yaakov Tirkel to fill in the position.

The panel will be a government-appointed committee but will not be considered an official government inquiry convened in accordance with the Basic Law on the Government, nor will it be a state commission of inquiry, the report said.

In addition to the judge heading the panel, members will include jurists specialising in international law as well as two observers, one American and the other European, to meet the international demands.

However, the proposed committee does fall short of demands for an international investigation. The committee will have a mandate to examine whether the blockade of Gaza Strip is in accordance with international law, whether the Israel Navy`s takeover of the aid flotilla in international waters was legal and whether the use of force by Israeli troops and other aspects of the operation were legal.

Contacts with the United States on forming the panel are said to have been handled directly by the Israeli Premier and Defence Minister Ehud Barak with US Vice President Joe Biden pitching in for Washington.

Barak and Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi are, also expected to testify before the committee. A team of military experts appointed by Ashkenzi and headed by Maj Gen (res) Giora Eiland began its own examination of the flotilla incident on Wednesday.

The attack that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists and injured many others has evoked international condemnation and pressure has been mounting on Israel to hold a fair probe.