Netanyahu says ready to testify in flotilla inquiry
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he was willing to testify in an inquiry Israel intends to hold into its deadly raid on a convoy of aid ships bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.
A formal Israeli announcement of an investigation of the May 31 bloodshed awaits the conclusion of consultations with Israel's main ally, the United States, on a format for the probe, Israeli officials said.
"We will be prepared to appear and give all the facts," Netanyahu said in a speech, mentioning himself, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, the military's chief of staff.
Israeli commandos killed nine Turks, including one who also held U.S. nationality, after boarding the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara and being swarmed by pro-Palestinian activists with clubs and knives.
The bloodshed triggered an international outcry and strained relations between Israel and its once-close Muslim ally, Turkey. Israel called the troops' actions "self-Defense." Turkey described the killings as "state-sponsored terrorism."
Amid world pressure to ease its Gaza blockade and agree to a U.S.-backed U.N. call for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation," Israel has expressed willingness to involve foreign observers in its own inquiry.
"The examination must include answers to questions that some in the international community prefer to ignore: Who was behind the extremist group on the ship's deck? Who sponsored its members?" Netanyahu said.
All of the nine dead on the Mavi Marmara were members or volunteers for the Foundation for Human Rights and Freecoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH).
The IHH says it is an Islamic charity group funded entirely by donations. Israel says the IHH supports Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and other militant Islamist groups. But it does not classify the IHH as a terrorist organization.
"The world needs to know the whole picture," Netanyahu said. "And we will make sure the whole picture comes to light."
He said Israel's investigation would also focus on how "axes, clubs, knives and other light weapons" were brought on board the ship and on the "very large sums of money" he contended were found "in the pockets of those people on deck."
The Israeli military has announced its own investigation, focusing on the operational aspects of a raid seen by many in Israel as a fiasco in which planners failed to gauge the strength of resistance on board.
Netanyahu, echoing remarks made by a spokesman on Tuesday, said officers and soldiers would not testify at the government-ordered inquiry, which would rely on the statements they made to the military panel.
Israel says its Gaza blockade is necessary to limit weapons smuggling to Hamas.
The U.N. says the Israeli embargo, which includes a ban on cement crucial for reconstruction after the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war, has caused a humanitarian crisis in the enclave. Israel rejects the allegation, citing its frequent shipments of fuel and medical aid into the area.
(Editing by Diana Abdallah)