An Israeli news report said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the proposal. "I told him (Ban) that the investigation of the facts must be carried out responsibly and objectively," Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as telling a Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren also said on Sunday that Jerusalem will reject the idea of an international commission to study the raid. "We are rejecting an international commission. We are discussing with the Obama administration a way in which our inquiry will take place," Oren said on "Fox News Sunday."
According to a proposal Ban conveyed to the Turkish and Israeli prime ministers on Saturday, a five-member panel would investigate the operation, which has caused an international uproar and intensified calls for an end to the Israeli blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip. The panel would be headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and include a representative from both Turkey and Israel. Two members, one international law expert and one military expert, will be appointed by Ban, Turkish officials said, giving no information on their nationalities. But according to Israeli sources, the panel will include at least one representative from the United States, a key ally of Israel whose participation is expected to address Israeli concerns about the panel's impartiality.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Ban in a 15-minute conversation that the panel should conclude its investigation in two months at the most, the Turkish officials said. Ban confirmed that the panel will have a two-month deadline to present its final conclusions.
Erdoğan, speaking on Sunday, said Turkey attached great importance to the UN probe. "We hope we will be able to get [desired] results," he said in a speech in the western province of Bursa.
The bloody takeover of the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara in international waters last Monday resulted in the killing of eight Turkish men and one Turkish-American teenager. Preliminary autopsy results have shown that they were shot 30 times at close range. Israel says the commandos acted in self-defense. The panel's mandate is not known yet, but it is expected to review whether the takeover was in contravention of international law and whether the Israeli commandos' response to resistance in the ship was proportional.
The push for an international inquiry puts Israel under further pressure to explain how its attempt to stop the aid ship from breaching a blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza turned deadly. It could also cast light on the motives and plans of some of the ship's passengers, who Israel says were Islamic extremists intent on attacking its troops. Israel has resisted calls for an external investigation into the raid, saying it is capable of investigating the incident itself. It also resists subjecting its soldiers to an international inquiry.
The United States, which dismissed calls for the condemnation of Israel and insists Israel's security concerns must be addressed, is also facing questions regarding involvement in any investigation into the ship raid because any time an American citizen is killed overseas, the US government has the option to open its own investigation into the case. So far, the US has said Israel was best positioned to conduct a credible investigation.
The Israeli operation on the unarmed ship has sparked international outrage against Israel, which has been imposing a strict embargo on the Gaza Strip for three-and-a-half years, claiming that it is necessary to prevent Palestinian group Hamas that controls Gaza from getting weapons it could use against Israel. But human rights groups say the embargo causes extreme poverty among the 1.5 million Palestinians and does nothing but further radicalize a segment of the society. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Saturday that Israel's blockade of Gaza was illegal and should be lifted and the White House also joined international criticism of the blockade on Friday, saying it was unsustainable.
In his telephone conversation with Ban, Erdoğan repeated calls for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and said the UN should take active part in delivering aid materials that would help restore infrastructure. Israel bans entry of cement and other construction materials, claiming that they could be used to boost Hamas' military capacity. Much of Gaza's infrastructure was destroyed during an Israeli offensive on Gaza in January 2009, which killed 1,400 people.
No apology from Israel
Turkey, whose ties with Israel were already damaged due to the situation in Gaza, says Israel must end the blockade, agree to an international investigation into the operation and offer an apology to Turkey to open the way for the recovery from a crisis that has beset relations since the May 31 raid.
"Israel cannot find any better friend in the region than Turkey," Turkish Ambassador Namık Tan told a group of journalists in Washington on Friday. "And Israel is about to lose that friend," he was quoted as saying in The Washington Post. To prevent such a break between two close US allies, Tan said that "first and foremost" Israel needed to apologize for the deaths.
But Israel was not been moved by the Turkish call. Quoting Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, the Israeli daily Haaretz said Israel would not apologize to Turkey for the deaths, arguing that the Turkish demand for an official apology was mainly an excuse to allow Erdoğan to cut diplomatic ties with Israel.
The officials also said Tan's demand for an apology was not relayed through any other diplomatic channels. Tan, who was Turkey's ambassador to Israel before his US appointment, was known to be a supporter of Israel, the officials said. "If he is speaking like this it is probably an official order he received from top officials in the Turkish government," Haaretz quoted an official as saying. "It seems that the deterioration is continuing and a complete cut in diplomatic ties is only a matter of time."