THE WHITE HOUSE - White House spokesman Robert Gibbs began his briefing yesterday by expressing sorrow at the death of civilians on Monday's Gaza-bound flotilla, then concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which he said cannot continue.
"We are open to ways to assure credible investigation, including international participation," he added.
When he finished, he was deluged by reporters asking why the U.S. had not condemned Israel's "deliberate massacre" of civilians on the flotilla. "Nothing can bring them back," he answered, reiterating his demand for a "credible and transparent" investigation.
He declined to say whether the United States thought the Israeli raid had violated international law, or whether he thought ships bearing humanitarian cargo should be allowed to break the blockade on Gaza.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Washington on June 9 as planned, Gibbs continued, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who canceled his planned visit yesterday, has an "open invitation."
One reporter asked whether Israel had become a political burden on the U.S. Gibbs responded that Israel is an important ally, and American support for its security would not change.
But administration officials did not hide their frustration at this new obstacle on the road to direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.
The real battle, however, took place at the UN Security Council in New York, where Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Israel of "murder" and demanded a strong condemnation of its "piratical" behavior.
Danny Carmon, deputy head of the Israeli mission, retorted that Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being violently attacked by the ship's Turkish passengers. "What kind of humanitarian activists insist on circumventing the UN, the Red Cross and other recognized international organizations?" he demanded. "What kind of peace activists carry knives, batons and other weapons in order to attack soldiers?"
After 24 hours of discussion, the council approved a presidential statement. Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, said the final wording was much milder than the original proposal, for which she credited the U.S. The most important change, she said, is that its general call for an "independent investigation" could be interpreted as referring not just to Israel's actions, but also to "the events that led to this difficult situation in which people were killed."
However, she added, the UN Human Rights Council will soon convene in Geneva, and is expected to appoint a "fact-finding commission, which is not something we're interested in supporting," given the council's known anti-Israel bias.
Shalev lavished praise on the U.S., "our greatest friend." And indeed, the U.S. response was considerably more muted than that of other countries: Not only did it refrain from condemning Israel, but State Department spokesman Philip Crowley stressed Hamas' responsibility for the incident. International mechanisms exist for delivering aid to Gaza, he said, and those mechanisms should be used; involving Hamas in the process merely "complicates" the aid effort.
Moreover, America's deputy UN ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, stressed that a "credible" probe need not be international; the U.S. is "confident" that Israel can conduct such a probe itself.
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