UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Photo by Reuters
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The four-member panel investigating the Israeli military interception of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla was instructed to seek the "fullest cooperation" from national authorities, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday, adding that the panel would not assign individual culpability.

Ban met with former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and outgoing President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, who will co-chair the investigation, as well as Ozdem Sanberk of Turkey and Joseph Ciechanover of Israel at UN headquarters for their first meeting.

A statement from Ban's office said, "The panel will spend the coming days determining how they will undertake their task and in this effort, the secretary general stressed they should seek the fullest cooperation of the national authorities."

The panel was asked to discharge its mandate based on a UN Security Council statement issued following the May 31 incident, which called for a "full investigation" that should be "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent" in accordance with international standards.

The panel will submit a first progress report in mid-September, Ban said.

"The panel is not designed to determine individual criminal responsibility, but to examine and identify the facts, circumstances and the context of the incident, as well as to recommend ways of avoiding future incidents," the statement said.

"For that purpose, the panel will receive and review reports of national investigations into the incident and request such clarifications and information as it may require from relevant national authorities," it said.

On May 31, Israeli commandos stormed the Gaza-bound flotilla in efforts to prevent the aid ships from violating an Israeli-imposed naval blockade on the Palestinian territory. Aboard one of the ships, the Israeli soldiers were met with violent resistance, which resulted in a deadly clash in which 9 Turkish activists were killed.

On Monday, Ban denied he had agreed to keep Israeli soldiers involved in the raid off limits in the inquiry. A government source in Jerusalem, however, stressed that Israel would not cooperate with the UN probe if the panel decided to question Israeli soldiers. According to the source, the UN chief had agreed to keep the soldiers out of the investigation.

"There was no such agreement behind the scenes," he said when asked by reporters whether there was a deal with the Israeli government to open the UN inquiry.

"Their main work will be to review and examine the reports of the national investigations and liaise with the domestic authorities," Ban said. "Whatever is needed beyond that, they will have to discuss among themselves in close coordination with the national government authorities."

In addition to the UN inquiry panel, which was called for by the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has also appointed a three-member "independent international fact-finding mission" to examine whether the raid violated international law.