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Israel resists pressure for international inquiry into ship raid

Israel's ambassador to the US has rejected calls for an international probe into its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. French President Sarkozy on Sunday urged Israel to accept the inquiry.

Irish-owned aid ship Rachel Corrie

The Irish-owned Rachel Corrie carried humanitarian supplies

French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone on Sunday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to accept "a credible and impartial inquiry" into last week's deadly raid on a Turkish-owned aid ship that left nine activists dead.

A statement issued by Sarkozy's office said the French leader called on Netanyahu "to follow the requests of the United Nations Security Council." Sarkozy also said France was willing to participate in the inquiry.

Israeli officials said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also spoke with Netanyahu to propose setting up a multinational commission to investigate what went wrong.

Following talks in Paris, the foreign ministers of France and Britain said an international inquiry was necessary to resolve the dispute.

"We think it is very important that there is a credible and transparent investigation," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "We believe there should be an international presence at minimum in that inquiry or investigation."

Isralei sailors in the navy base in Haifa prepare to set sail

Israel insists its commandos were attacked and fired in self-defense

His French counterpart Bernard Kouchner also proposed that the European Union help check the cargo on ships bound for the Gaza Strip and take charge of the Rafah border crossing into Palestinian territory. EU monitors helped oversee the Rafah land crossing point into Gaza until 2007, when the operation was suspended for security reasons.

The Jewish state has fiercely defended its boarding of the Turkish aid ship last Monday, insisting its commandos were attacked with weapons and opened fire in self-defense. But activists on the ship said troops shot at them without provocation.

Israeli ambassador rejects international probe

Israel has faced an international outcry over the incident, which has also strained relations with Turkey.


But Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, on Sunday dismissed the proposal for an international probe.

"We are rejecting an international commission. We are discussing with the Obama administration a way in which our inquiry will take place," Oren said on the Fox News Sunday television program.

He said Israel would not apologize for the incident. "Israel is a democratic nation. Israel has the ability and the right to investigate itself, not to be investigated by any international board," Oren said.

A Malaysian volunteer who was on board the Irish aid ship arrives in Istanbul

Volunteers from the Irish aid ship were deported on Sunday

Israel deports activists

Meanwhile, Israel began deporting a group of 19 activists who were detained on Saturday after trying to sail to Gaza in defiance of Israel's three-year blockade. Seven of the activists were reportedly released and deported early Sunday, while the rest were to be released later in the day.

Israel said its troops boarded the Irish-owned aid ship Rachel Corrie earlier on Saturday without meeting any resistance, forcing the ship to change course for the southern Israeli port of Ashdod.

The passengers of the Rachel Corrie included Irish and Malaysian activists, four Indonesian crew members and a Scottish captain. The ship was carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.

Demonstrations across Europe

Last Monday's raid by Israel, which killed nine activists - eight of those killed were Turkish, and the ninth had joint US-Turkish nationality - triggered demonstrations across Europe on Saturday.

Protesters took to the streets in France, Ireland, Turkey, Germany and the United Kingdom, chanting anti-Israeli slogans and demanding that the blockade be lifted.

Protesters hold a banner during a protest against Israel's naval commando raid

Activists around the world were outraged by Israel's actions

In France, 20,000 people rallied in Paris, Nice, Marseille and several other French cities, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. In London, thousands gathered outside the prime minister's official residence at Downing Street, urging the British government to step up pressure on Israel.

In the northwestern German city of Duisburg, some 5,000 protestors took part in a demonstration organized by Milli Gorus, an Islamist movement with Turkish roots. Both Palestinians and Turks took part in similar protests took place in Duesseldorf, Nuremberg and Frankfurt.

An estimated 10,000 people gathered in Istanbul, some shouting slogans accusing Israel of murder.

Authors: Darren Mara, Martin Kuebler (AP/AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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