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UN Presses Israel for International Probe of Gaza Flotilla Raid

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he welcomes Israel's decision to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip but still wants an international panel to investigate a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

At a Friday briefing, Mr. Ban said he is calling for establishing a panel that would be under the guidance of a third party but would include active participation from Israel and Turkey. He urged Israel to accept a "credible and transparent investigation" that conforms to international standards.

Israel has, instead, set up its own commission to investigate the commando raid that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead. Eight of the activists were Turkish.

On Thursday, Israel announced it was easing its blockade of Gaza to allow more humanitarian aid into the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the U.N. says her country reserves the right to use "all means necessary" to stop ships from violating the Gaza blockade.

Ambassador Gabriela Shalev made the comments in a letter, Friday, to U.N. officials and Lebanon. The letter says Israel is concerned that activists are trying to organize an effort in which they would attempt to sail from Lebanon to Gaza.

Israel has been facing intense international pressure to end the blockade after its forces last month intercepted the aid flotilla that was trying to deliver goods directly to Gaza.

Palestinian officials say Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is urging the United States to pressure Israel to lift the blockade. The officials say Mr. Abbas made the request Friday to U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, who is in the region to broker indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Friday the U.S. is contributing $60 million to Palestinian refugees through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). She announced the funding in Washington, during an event marking World Refugee Day.

Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza in 2007, after the Palestinian militant group Hamas took control of the territory.

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