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 as the five-member panel began work Monday.
Alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's defense minister and military chief of staff will also 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.
Beside Turkel, 75, a retired Supreme Court justice, the commission includes a retired general, Amos Horev, 86, and Shabtai Rosen, a 93-year-old international jurist who required help from security guards to reach his seat at the table.
Under international pressure, Israel's government also included two foreign observers: David Trimble, a Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland and a member of the British House of Lords, and Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, Canada's former chief military prosecutor.
"I recognize the significance of the decision to include an international element and I understand the constitutional and political niceties that surround that," Trimble said. "I can say that we are all determined that the inquiry be rigorous and hope that it can thereby make a positive contribution to peace."
The incident occurred on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was intercepted by helicopter-borne Israeli commandos as it sailed toward Gaza as part of a six-ship protest flotilla. Five ships were commandeered without incident, but activists on board the Mavi Marmara put up resistance and the soldiers opened fire, saying their lives were in danger. Protesters have said they were only defending themselves.
The flotilla had been trying to draw attention to a three-year-old Israeli blockade — imposed with Egypt after Hamas militants overran the territory.
The raid drew a furious international reaction and forced Israel and Egypt to ease the blockade. Israel says the naval blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the militants of Hamas.
Especially harsh was the response from Turkey, where most of the activists were from and where the government unofficially backed the flotilla.
Turkey, until recently a close ally of Israel, recalled its ambassador, and on Monday announced that some Israeli military flights would no longer be allowed in Turkish airspace.
First Published: Monday, June 28, 2010, 17:30