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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Israeli inquiry into flotilla raid runs into trouble

THE IRISH TIMES
Thursday, July 1, 2010


MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem

A COMMISSION of inquiry set up by Israel to examine the botched raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza on May 31st that left nine activists dead has run into problems after only two days.

Yaakov Turkel, the retired Israeli supreme court justice chairing the commission, has demanded that it be enlarged and its powers extended beyond its original remit to include the power to subpoena witnesses of its own choosing. The original mandate barred the commission, in which David Trimble is an observer, from examining the government’s preparations before the incident. The defence ministry had also refused to allow any military or defence officials to give evidence.

But amid rumours that Judge Turkel was threatening to quit unless the commission was given some teeth, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to extend some of the judge’s powers, including the right to recommend sanctions against individuals found guilty of wrongdoing. But the government still refuses to allow soldiers to give evidence.

The decision came after Gush Shalom, a left-wing group, filed a high court petition challenging the legality of the inquiry. Its leader Uri Avnery said the government had been forced to “admit Gush Shalom’s main contention – that the Turkel commission, with the very narrow authority and mandate given it by the government, was not able to conduct a serious investigation into the circumstances that led to the killing of nine passengers on the Gaza flotilla”.

“A thorough and independent investigation is needed,” he said.

Analyst Ze’ev Segal of Haaretz said the judge had no choice.

“Currently, the Turkel commission is crippled, dependent entirely on the government’s goodwill,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Israel moved to ease international pressure and the prospect of more aid flotillas sailing to Gaza by increasing the number of trucks carrying allowable merchandise into the enclave each day from 100 to 150, and eventually to more than 300.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the new policy as “a step in the right direction” at a joint news conference with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

Nasser al-Sarraj, the assistant undersecretary of the Palestinian ministry of national economy, said home and office furniture, electrical appliances, sanitation tools, paint, and several non-electric metal tools would be permitted into Gaza for the first time since 2007.

Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government, dismissed the Israeli move as “lies” designed to mask its continued control of Gaza.

The Israeli decision has been met with dismay in some quarters. The parents of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, who have embarked on a 10-day march to Jerusalem to mark the fourth anniversary of his capture, said the sanctions should not have been lifted without their son at least being allowed a visit by the Red Cross.

Shortly before dawn, a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza destroyed a packing plant in southern Israel. There were no casualties.

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