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UN Rights Council Names Team to Probe Israel Flotilla Raid
GENEVA — The UN Human Rights Council named a panel of experts Friday to investigate whether Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla breached international law and urged the Jewish state to cooperate.
Briton Desmond de Silva, Malaysian Mary Shanthi Dairiam and Karl Hudson-Phillips from Trinidad and Tobago would probe the events surrounding the May 31 raid in which nine Turkish activists were killed, the council announced.
"This is not about finger pointing, it's about establishing the facts of what took place because the incident was humanitarian tragedy and it's in the interests of everyone," said council president Sihasak Phuangketkeow.
"So I'm hoping and I'm urging all the parties concerned to render their full cooperation, because it is in their interests and it's in the interests of the international community as a whole."
Israel has consistently rejected calls for an international independent investigation into the raid by its commandos and instead launched its own military probe and set up a separate panel to examine the legality of the raid.
Last week the military investigation admitted that mistakes were made at a "relatively senior" level.
However, it also found that the use of live fire by commandos was justified and that troops on board the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara had behaved in a "very professional and courageous way."
The Israeli panel, led by retired Supreme Court judge Yaacov Tirkel, will hear testimony from all of the top political and military decision makers involved in planning the raid, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Still seething over a report by the UN investigator Richard Goldstone last year into its conduct during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, Israel has refused to countenance an international investigation into the flotilla raid.
The 47-member state Human Rights Council condemned the raid as an "outrageous attack" during an emergency session in June. The decision to set up a panel was made at the same session.
Phuangketkeow insisted that the panel would be completely unbiased.
"The expertise, independence and impartiality of the members of the mission will be devoted to clarifying the events which took place that day and their legality," added Phuangketkeow.
Hudson-Phillips was a judge at the International Criminal Court, de Silva was chief prosecutor of the UN court for Sierra Leone while Dairiam serves on the gender equality taskforce of the UN Development Programme.
The panel is expected to draw up a plan of action as well as contact relevant parties before travelling to the region.
Although no exact timetable for the panel's work was revealed, the report on their findings was scheduled to be made to the Human Rights Council during its 15th session in September.
The bloodshed on the aid flotilla sparked a deep crisis in already strained relations between Turkey and Israel, once close allies.
Ankara has urged the Jewish state to apologise, compensate the families of the victims and lift the blockade of Gaza to repair the relations.
Israel says its commandos used force only after they were attacked with sticks and stabbed as soon as they landed on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara.