UN Rights Body Names Team to Probe Gaza Flotilla Raid

Foreign ministry official calls the UN decision hasty and 'part of the UN Rights Council's obsession against Israel.'

The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed a team of international experts on Friday to investigate Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla and called on all parties to cooperate.

The fact-finding team comprises three independent experts --Sir Desmond de Silva (Britain), Karl Hudson-Phillips (Trinidad and Tobago) and Mary Shanthi Dairiam (Malaysia), a U.N. statement said.

Israel Navy forces approaching the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010.

The 47-country Council voted to set up the independent inquiry on June 2 to look into what it called violations of international law in Israel's commando attack in May in which nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

"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," said Thailand's ambassador Sihasak Phuangketkeow, current Council president. "

We call upon all parties to fully cooperate with the mission and hope that this mission will contribute to peace in the region and justice for the victims," he said.

In response to the UN's decision, a foreign ministry official said that the UN Human Rights Council's made its decision in haste, and that it was "part of the Rights Council's obsession against Israel."

"The Israeli probe, conducted with transparency, makes the organization's probe completely unnecessary," the official added.

The Israeli navy stormed the flotilla on May 31, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American on board a Turkish ship.

Israel said its commandos acted in self-defense and has rejected calls for an international inquiry into the raid.

But Pakistan and Sudan led a move by Muslim countries at the UN human rights body, here they hold an effective majority, to condemn the raid as outrageous and demand "full accountability and credible independent inquiries".

The UN team is expected to travel to Israel, Turkey and Gaza in August to interview witnesses and gather information before reporting back to the Council in September. The Council opens a three-week session in Geneva on Sept. 12.

It was not yet clear whether Israel -- which has a long history of rejecting UN probes as one-sided -- would cooperate and allow the team to visit, according to UN sources.

Israel announced in June that they would be establishing an independent public committee to investigate the raid.

"It is not ideal, but the other options are less good," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said regarding the probe. "The flotilla to Gaza was not a one-time incident. We are in the midst of a difficult and continuous fight against the State of Israel."

A retired Supreme Court justice, Jacob Turkel, is heading the committee, also includes two international observers and tackles the legality of the blockade of Gaza and the legality of the navy's actions.

A separate Israeli military inquiry released on July 12 found intelligence and operational errors in the raid but defended the use of force.

De Silva is a former chief war crimes prosecutor at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. Hudson-Phillips is a former judge at the International Criminal Court who also served as attorney-general of Trinidad and Tobago.

Shanthi Dairiam is a Malaysian women's rights activist working in UN and Asian regional forums.