U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he has established a panel of inquiry to look into the Israeli raid of a Turkish ship on May 31, that resulted in the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian activists who were taking aid supplies to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the four-member panel will be chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and its vice chair will be out-going Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The panel will also have one Turkish and one Israeli member who are expected to be named in the coming days.
In a pre-recorded video statement, Mr. Ban who characterized the panel as "unprecedented". He said it would begin its work on August 10th and submit its first progress report by mid-September. A final report is expected in February.
"I would like to thank the leaders of both Israel and Turkey for their spirit of compromise and forward looking attitude," Mr. Ban said. "I sincerely hope this will positively contribute to the [Middle East] peace process as well as improvement of the relationship between Israel and Turkey."
Relations between Israel and Turkey hit an all time low after the May 31 incident, in which a Turkish ship carrying more than 600 pro-Palestinian activists and 10,000 tons of supplies to the Gaza Strip was boarded in international waters by Israeli commandos. The ship was part of a flotilla of six Turkish boats. The other five were boarded peacefully.
But the Mavi Marmara defied several warnings from the Israeli navy not to approach the Palestinian territory by sea and instead deliver its cargo to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American activist were shot dead in the raid.
U.N. Spokesman Martin Nesirky said the panel would not be conducting a criminal investigation, but would be reviewing national investigations conducted by Israel and Turkey, and could request clarifications or additional information relating to those investigations.
"It [the panel] will examine and identify the facts, circumstances and context of the incident," Nesirky said. "And the final point is that it will consider and recommend ways of avoiding similar incidents in the future."
Until now, Israel had rejected calls for an international independent investigation and instead launched two internal inquiries. A statement on the Israeli Foreign Ministry website attributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "Israel has nothing to hide," and it is in Israel's national interest "to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world."
Israel came in for harsh international condemnation following the raid.
Turkey welcomed the announcement of the panel. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Anatolia state news agency that he is confident the panel will work objectively, quickly and comprehensively.