Amid Israeli threats of withdrawal, Turkey gives full support to UN probe of flotilla raid
Turkey is giving full support to the UN probe into the Israeli raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla despite Tel Aviv's threats that it could consider withdrawing if its soldiers are called to testify. "Whatever the UN panel requests of us, we'll provide," a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said yesterday. "We demanded this commission. We have been supporting the work of the secretary-general from the very beginning." Although Turkey has been confident, the mandate of the four-member UN panel remains vague. Regardless, the probe is not a criminal investigation, meaning it is unknown whether the findings will satisfy Ankara, which is pressing for an apology and compensation from Tel Aviv. At the probe's first hearing on Tuesday its parameters were discussed, officials said. According to the UN, the panel is tasked with reviewing reports of national investigations; requesting clarification and additional information; examining and identifying the facts, circumstances and context of the incident; and recommending ways of avoiding similar incidents in the future. The panel will submit an initial progress report by mid-September and a final report by next February. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denied Monday a "behind-the-scenes" agreement with Israel that the panel would not summon the country's soldiers to testify, and UN spokesman Martin Nesirky didn't rule out the possibility that the panel could seek to talk to or obtain information directly from Israeli soldiers, as well as officials from either side. But the committee appears set to approach the relevant governments should it seek to get clarification or data from any of the actors in the incident, according to Israeli reports, citing official sources. While there is no written agreement between Israel and the UN, there appears to be an important verbal understanding that the panel will not impose itself on the governments but will instead give authority to them. Currently, all the issues were left vague in order to overcome obstacles in the Turkish-Israeli relationship, which descended into crisis in the wake of the flotilla incident, according to diplomatic observers. Both Turkey and Israel have established national commissions to investigate the May 31 incident that left nine activists dead, including eight Turks and one US citizen of Turkish descent.