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UN Panel Appointed to Probe Gaza Raid

Former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Desmond de Silva (file photo)
Former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Desmond de Silva (file photo)

The United Nations Human Rights Council has appointed a team of experts to investigate a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May.

The council announced Friday the team will be headed by former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Desmond de Silva. The panel will investigate possible violations of international law.

Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed in the raid. The activists were part of a flotilla that was trying to break Israel's blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza in order to deliver aid directly to Palestinians.

Human Rights Council president Sihasak Phuangketkeow says the panel will try to clarify the events that took place that day and their "legality."

In June, the council adopted a resolution condemning what it called an "outrageous attack" by Israeli forces. The group also announced it was forming a panel to investigate the incident.

Israel says its naval commandos were attacked when they boarded the flotilla vessels and they acted in self-defense. Last week an Israeli military commission issued a report on the deadly encounter that said flawed planning and intelligence gathering led to the incident spiraling out of control.

Meanwhile, Israel announced Friday it had decided return to Turkey three aid ships seized during the May incident. Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency quotes Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as saying Turkey expects to receive the ships within the next few days.

The raid had sparked a sharp downturn in Israel's traditionally warm relations with Turkey. Eight of the activists killed were Turks and the ninth was a Turkish-American.

Separately, Israel warned on Thursday that two ships preparing to sail from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip would not be allowed to reach the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

Israel's U.N. ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, said in a letter that the Jewish state reserves the right "to use all necessary means" to prevent the ships from violating the naval blockade.

The U.N. Human Rights Council panel will also include former International Criminal Court judge Karl Hudson-Phillips and U.N. gender equality expert Shanthi Dairiam.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.