Israel agrees 'in principle' to lift Gaza blockade


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Benjamin Netanyahu

Commission to examine raid

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said Israel has agreed in principle to begin within days to ease its three-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip.

He was speaking in Luxembourg after of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

The ministers issued a statement calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted and a 'credible, independent' inquiry into the Israeli assault on ships which prevented aid from being delivered to Gaza.

Israel's cabinet earlier backed the creation of an internal committee to probe its deadly raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Nine Turkish activists were killed in the incident.

The Israeli committee, including two foreign observers, one of whom will be former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, was formed to conduct an investigation into the legal aspects of the operation.

Turkey criticised the move, saying it did not believe the Israeli commission would carry out an 'impartial' probe of the pre-dawn attack.

'We have no trust at all that Israel, a country that has carried out such an attack on a civilian convoy in international waters, will conduct an impartial investigation,' Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

The internal inquiry into the 31 March raid, which falls short of a UN proposal for an international investigation, was decided on after consultations with the US.

The White House has said Israel is capable of conducting a fair investigation.

'But we will not prejudge the process or its outcome, and will await the conduct and findings of the investigation before drawing further conclusions,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the commission would examine the legality under international law of Israel's naval blockade and of actions taken to enforce it, as well as the actions of those who organised and took part in the flotilla.

Israel said its commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists when they boarded a Turkish-flagged aid vessel and were attacked by passengers wielding metal rods and knives.

Meanwhile, Palestinian gunmen shot and wounded three Israeli policemen in an attack on their vehicle in the occupied West Bank earlier this morning, police said.

'This was definitely a terrorist attack. It was carried out on an ordinary police vehicle and forces are now combing the scene,' said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

There was no claim of responsibility from any Palestinian group for the attack near the town of Hebron in the southern West Bank.