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Netanyahu testifies before Israel`s Gaza boat raid inquiry

International Desk |
Update: 2010-08-08 16:39:29
Netanyahu testifies before Israel`s Gaza boat raid inquiry

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to appear before an Israeli commission of inquiry on Monday to explain a commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla which killed nine Turkish activists.

He will be the first of three top officials to give sworn testimony about the May 31 incident in which naval commandos stormed six aid ships trying to run the blockade on Gaza, killing the activists and wounding scores of others.

The bloody raid caused a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey and sparked global calls for an inquiry -- prompting Netanyahu`s government to set up the so-called Tirkel Commission to look into the legality of the operation.

But Netanyahu is not likely to face any awkward questions when he takes to the stand at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) to testify before the five panel members, two foreign observers and hundreds of members of the press and public.

When the committee was created in June, Netanyahu`s office said its mandate was to examine the international legality of Israel`s naval blockade and of actions taken to enforce it, as well as the actions of those who organised and took part in the flotilla.

Panel members are not authorised probe the decision-making process which led up to the operation, nor do they have the authority to question troops involved in storming the boats.

And some of the premier`s testimony is expected to be delivered behind closed doors, a spokesman for the commission said on Sunday.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak will take the stand on Tuesday, followed by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on Wednesday, with both likely to be quizzed over the operational aspects of boarding the ships.

Ashkenazi will be the only serving member of the military to testify before the committee.

The five-man panel, headed by retired judge Yaakov Tirkel, began investigating the raid at the end of June, and its deliberations are being monitored by two international observers.

The creation of the panel, its members and its mandate were all backed by Israel`s cabinet. Its findings will be presented to the government, which has already blamed the bloodshed on the activists.

Israel says its commandos resorted to force only after they were attacked when they rappelled onto the deck of the Turkish passenger ferry Mavi Marmara. But the activists on board say troops opened fire as soon as they landed.

The Israeli military has already completed its own inquiry into the pre-dawn raid and concluded that although mistakes were made at a "relatively senior" level, the use of live fire was justified.

Israel has repeatedly said it has the right to stop vessels from reaching the Gaza Strip since they could be carrying weapons for the Islamist Hamas rulers of the enclave. Hamas is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state.

Last week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named his own panel to look into the botched raid, which is set to begin work on Tuesday and includes representatives from Israel and Turkey.

The UN Human Rights Council is also carrying out an inquiry, as is Turkey which is reportedly looking to make a criminal case against Netanyahu, Barak and Ashkenazi, charging them with piracy and murder.

BDST: 11.55 HRS, August 09, 2010

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