Israel, U.N. Avoid Spat Over Gaza Flotilla Raid Probe

Investigations into Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May are in full swing, as Israeli leaders seek to defend the actions taken by their soldiers amid sharp international criticism.

The United Nations formally launched an inquiry in New York on Tuesday, while an Israeli investigation reached the midway point with testimony from Israel's highest elected officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Israeli officials appeared confident as they defended their decisions ahead of the May 31 incident in the Mediterranean that left nine Turkish activists dead after clashes with Israeli naval commandos. On Monday, they warned they might withdraw from the U.N. panel on the flotilla incident. But by Tuesday evening, Israeli officials confirmed they will continue to participate, but will not allow their soldiers to be interviewed by the U.N.

Israel has often accused the U.N. of bias, and the government has never taken part in a U.N. investigation.

Earlier, Israel accused U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of reneging on a deal under which Israel would cooperate with the world body in exchange for assurances that no soldier from the Israel Defense Forces would be interviewed. Although Ban denied such a deal, he did not explicitly state that IDF soldiers would be interviewed and said the U.N. panel would not try to assign individual criminal responsibility.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Barak said it was unnecessary for Israeli soldiers to appear before the U.N., adding that he is sure Israel acted in full compliance with international law. In his testimony to the Turkel Commission, an internal Israeli inquiry into the raid, Barak described the flotilla incident as a planned provocation by pro-Palestinian activists. He said Israel had no choice but to take action against it.

Barak said that for more than a month before the incident, Israeli officials had been aware that some people involved in the flotilla planned to stage clashes in an attempt to embarrass Israel.

Although reporters were allowed into the courtroom to hear Barak's testimony Tuesday, no recordings were allowed. The hearing was also open to the Israeli public, but no private citizens showed up.

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