U.S.: Israel Capable of Conducting Impartial Gaza Flotilla Probe

State Department declares U.S. 'stands by' Israeli decision; UN keeps proposal for international probe 'on table'.

The United States declared Monday that it stood by Israel's decision to conduct an internal probe moderated by international observers of its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla.

|We believe that Israel certainly, as a government, has the institutions and certainly the capability to conduct a credible, impartial and transparent investigation," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, hours after Israel introduced the members of a panel created to probe the Israel Navy raid which killed nine people on May 31.

Gaza flotilla
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"I think this is an important step forward in what is called for in the UN. Security Council presidential statement," Crowley added, referring to the international body's call for a transparent, impartial, credible investigation. "That said, we're not going to prejudge the process or the outcome."

Regarding Turkey's insistence that an Israeli probe was an insufficient method of dealing with the incident, Crowley said that Turkey had the right to open its own investigation into the matter.

"Turkey, as any sovereign country, has a right to conduct its own investigation. I'm not aware that Turkey has reached its own judgment on how to proceed," he said.

Crowley reiterated that United States' position that it saw Israel as "capable of conducting" an impartial probe, adding: "We stand by Israel, and we'll voice our strong views against any action that is one-sided or biased by an international organization."

When asked about the growing international pressure on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Crowley said that the United States was working with partners in Israel and Egypt to ensure that humanitarian assistance be allowed into the Hamas-ruled territory.

"We are continuing to work with Israel, Egypt and others to try to figure out how to expand the amount of assistance to the people of Gaza," he said.

"But it remains a very legitimate concern that Israel [has]," Crowley said, referring to the flow of arms into the Gaza Strip. "They have, in fact, in the past, intercepted ships that were carrying weapons and armaments that have been used to threaten the Israeli people."

UN keeps proposal for international probe 'on table'

The United Nations responded cautiously to Israel's approval of an internal probe, saying the investigation "could fit" with internation calls for a credible investigation.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "took note" of Israel's announcement, said UN spokesman Farhan Haq, but continued to push for a full international investigation.

"The Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] takes note of the Israeli announcement on their inquiry," Haq told reporters.

"A thorough Israeli investigation is important and could fit with the secretary-general's proposal, which would fully meet the international community's expectation for a credible and impartial investigation," he said.

But Haq added that Ban's "proposal for an international inquiry remains on the table and he hopes for a positive Israeli response." He said Israel had not rejected Ban's idea.

Diplomats say Ban has urged Israel to accept a neutral inquiry panel led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and the cautious UN reaction may indicate that Ban had doubts about whether an Israeli-led probe would suffice.

Angered by the killing by Israeli commandos of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists on May 31, Turkey said an Israeli investigation would be biased and reiterated demands for a UN-controlled probe.

Diplomats familiar with Ban's proposal said he suggested Palmer could have two deputies, one from Israel and another from Turkey. Israel has responded coolly to Ban's idea.

UN diplomats say it is clear that Israel opposes a UN-led investigation. The main reason is the Israeli view that a U.N. Human Rights Council-mandated inquiry into the December 2008-January 2009 war in the Gaza Strip led by South
African jurist Richard Goldstone did serious damage to Israel.

The Goldstone Report accused both Israel and Hamas militants who control Gaza of war crimes, charges the Israelis and Hamas rejected.

At least four separate inquiries into the flotilla incident have been proposed, including the Israeli probe and Ban's inquiry. Turkish authorities have to carry out their own investigation because Turkish nationals were killed. The Human Rights Council has also said it would organize its own fact-finding mission.