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Israel will accept international role in flotilla probe, officials say

By Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
  • Israel will announce commission "in the next few days," Israeli ambassador says
  • Israeli officials say there will be international participation
  • U.S. says probe must be seen as impartial and credible
  • Israeli ambassador says nation is willing to allow more aid if security can be assured

Washington (CNN) -- Israeli officials said Friday they will accept international participation in their investigation into the deadly boarding of the Turkish flotilla ship destined for Gaza.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said his country will announce "in the next few days" the composition of the commission it is forming to look into what happened on board the ship that was trying to bring aid to Gaza.

Israeli officials, speaking on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the subject, told CNN there will be international participation in that investigation, but could not confirm speculation that an American might be part of the investigation.

The United States continues to talk to the Israelis about potential U.S. participation, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Friday. Asked whether the United States would support a U.N. resolution calling for a U.N.-led investigation, Crowley said, "We are not aware of any resolution that will be introduced at the U.N. next week."

A number of countries have urged that Israel allow the United Nations to investigate. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking Thursday in Washington, called for an international commission, saying "Israel cannot investigate itself."

Crowley said Washington supports an Israeli-led investigation but is "open to and discussing with Israel potential ways in which the international community can participate."

The State Department spokesman said the United States believes "this has to be seen as impartial, has to be seen as credible, and international participation in some fashion can enhance the results and the outcome and the support for the investigation."

In a speech Friday in Washington, the Israeli ambassador said that Israel has been involved in "serious" discussions with the United States, the United Nations and the other two members of the "Middle East quartet" -- the European Union and Russia -- on ways to provide more aid to civilians in the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization.

Any provision of aid, Oren said, must also provide a way to guarantee the security of Israel from weapons that might be smuggled into Gaza.

Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday. Her spokesman said an investigation into the ship boarding "was not a substantial part of the conversation."

Crowley said the focus of their discussions was on trying to find ways to relieve the suffering of the people of Gaza. Abbas, according to Crowley, "presented the secretary with some ideas that, from a Palestinian Authority standpoint, that he felt needed to be done."

The administration in Washington is discussing its own ideas on this and will raise Abbas' ideas with Israel and others, he said.

Abbas also said the Palestinians' main demand is that Israel's blockade of Gaza be lifted. He said Abbas' meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday they had discussed that demand and the attack on the flotilla.

Critics of the blockade claim the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. But Ambassador Oren said Israel is allowing 100 to 120 trucks to cross the border daily into Gaza and he said there is no shortage of food or medicine.

"We are open to any idea that will deny weapons to Hamas," he said Friday. "But it is in nobody's interest to facilitate Hamas' unfettered to military hardware. ... We cannot have an armed Iranian mini-state on the Mediterranean."