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Israel opens official probe into deadly flotilla raid

By Izzy Lemberg, CNN
  • NEW: Top Israeli authorities will be asked to testify
  • NEW: Nine Turkish activists killed in raid
  • Panel headed by retired Supreme Court justice
  • Israeli commandos raided Turkish vessel carrying humanitarian aid in May

Jerusalem (CNN) -- A commission appointed by Israeli officials to investigate last month's deadly flotilla raid will ask top government authorities to testify, the panel said at its first session Monday.

The panel is headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Ya'acov Terkel, maritime law professor Shabtai Rosenne and retired Maj. Gen. Amos Horev, a military expert. The panel also has two international observers: David Trimble of Northern Ireland, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his role in the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, and retired Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin of Canada.

The committee is officially known as the Independent Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of May 31, 2010.

In his opening remarks, Terkel emphasized he would be questioning the top echelons of the Israeli leadership.

"The commission has decided to summon very shortly the prime minister, the minister of defense, the chief of staff (of the Israeli army) and other senior witnesses," Terkel said.

Terkel also outlined the panel's mandate.

"The commission was asked to relate to the security circumstances related to the maritime blockade on Gaza, and it's conformity to international law," he said. "Also, the commission was asked to investigate the conformity of actions undertaken by Israel to enforce the maritime blockade on 31st of May."

He stressed that commission sessions would be open to the public as much as possible.

Israeli naval commandos raided the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, the largest of a six-boat flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies organized by international pro-Palestinian activists who attempted to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed and dozens wounded. A number of Israeli soldiers were injured as well.

Trimble said the commission aims to undertake a robust probe.

"I can say that we are all determined that the inquiry be rigorous," he said. "I hope that it can thereby make a positive contribution to peace."