Israeli forces approaching Gaza flotilla
Israel Navy forces approaching one of six ships of an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Israel's participation in the United Nations Review Panel formed to probe an Israel Defense Forces raid on a Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla eliminates the need for other international inquiries, U.S. envoy to the UN Susan Rice said Monday, following an announcement of the panel's formation by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The panel will investigate the events of the Israel Navy's May 31 commando raid of a six-ship flotilla, which left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead. Israel had balked at the UN request in the past, but has faced international pressure to allow for an external probe into the matter.

In a statement released Monday, Rice said that the United States expected  "that the Panel will operate in a transparent and credible manner and that its work will be the primary method for the international community to review the incident, obviating the need for any overlapping international inquiries."

"The Panel, which has the support of both Israel and Turkey, will receive and review the reports of each government’s national investigation into the incident and make recommendations as to how to avoid such incidents in the future," Rice said.

Rice also expressed her hopes that "the Panel can serve as a vehicle to enable Israel and Turkey to move beyond the recent strains in their relationship and repair their strong historic ties."

The U.S. envoy to the UN added that Washington wished to "thank both governments for the constructive and cooperative spirit they have shown and the Secretary General for his leadership and determination," adding that "the focus of the Panel is appropriately on the future and on preventing such incidents from recurring."

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel's participation in the United Nations probe of its deadly naval raid of a humanitarian aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip is meant to reveal the facts of the incident to the whole world.

This is the first time Israel has ever agreed to participate in a UN probe regarding the Israel Defense Forces. It is also the first time Israel will be represented on a UN committee dealing with its activities.

In Monday's statement, Netanyahu said that Israel had decided to be a part of the probe since it had "nothing to hide."

"The opposite is true," the premier said, adding that it was in "Israel's national interest to ensure that the factual truth regarding the flotilla incident would be exposed for the world to see," saying truth was "the principle we are promoting through this decision."

Corresponding with Netanyahu's affirmation of Israel's participation, UN Secretary General Ban officially announced Israel's participation in the international inquiry, calling it an "unprecedented development."

Ban said that he had "engaged in intensive consultation with the leaders of Israel and Turkey on the setting-up of a Panel of Inquiry on the flotilla incident," saying he was very pleased to announce the launch of the Panel."

"I thank the leaders of the two countries with whom I have engaged in last minute consultations over the weekend, for their spirit of compromise and forward looking cooperation," Ban said.

Ban also announced those who are planned to head the UN inquiry, saying the "panel will be led by eminent personalities: former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Geoffrey Palmer as Chair and the outgoing President of Colombia, Mr. Alvaro Uribe as Vice-Chair."

"The Panel will have two additional members, one each from Israel and Turkey. It will begin its workon 10 August and submit the first progress report by mid September," the UN chief added.

Ban said he hoped "the Panel will fulfill its mandate based on the Presidential Statement of the Security Council and with the fullest cooperation of the relevant national authorities of the two countries."

"It will also give me recommendations for the prevention of similar incidents in the future. I also hope that today's agreement will impact positively on the relationship between Turkey and Israel as well as the overall situation in the Middle East," Ban said.

The statements came after the Forum of Seven senior ministers decided earlier Monday that Israel must accept the United Nations' proposal to establish an international panel of inquiry into its deadly naval raid on a humanitarian aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip.

The Forum of Seven ruled that it would give Ban a positive response, in principle, to allow him to move forward with establishing the panel of inquiry. Simultaneously, negotiations will continue regarding who will comprise the committee and the composition of its mandate.

The review panel will not have the authority to subpoena witnesses, including  Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers. Instead, the committee will review the reports handed in by investigative panels in both Turkey and Israel, and who deal with the flotilla incident.

According to the panel's charter, it will review reports handed in by Israel regarding the findings of the IDF panel headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland and of the planned Turkel Committee, appointed by the government to examine whether the raid adhered to international law, has just begun its investigation.

Tacit talks regarding the formation of the UN review panel have been conducted for the last for months, with Ban suggesting the move as early as a week after the raid, on June 4th.

While the Foreign Ministry had at the time recommended Israel agreed to the panel's formation, Netanyahu had told Ban he needed more time to review the subject with the other members of his cabinet.

During that period, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with U.S. envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, as well as with an aide of the Secretary General Ban, at which time he was reportedly convinced that the panel would indeed be Israel's best possible option.

Lieberman then tried to sway the PM in that direction, with Netanyahu again delaying his final response.

The U.S. administration had also reportedly pressured Israel to comply with Ban's request, with the Americans allegedly claiming that Israel's participation could thwart anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly or in the United Nations Security Council, and could perhaps even bring about the cancellation of the Human Rights Council flotilla panel.