'Turkey bears no responsibility'

Turkish FM speaks out as UN panel begins Gaza flotilla probe.

UN flotilla panel (photo credit: Associated Press)
UN flotilla panel
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Ankara bears “no responsibility in the attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Tuesday, the same day a UN panel that includes Israeli and Turkish representatives began its probe into the matter.
In an apparent answer to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who on Monday told the Turkel Commission in Jerusalem that Turkey did nothing to stop the flotilla, even though there were contacts between Israel and Turkey at the “highest levels,” Davutoglu said Israel should take responsibility for the incident.
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“Nobody can place the responsibility of killing civilians in international waters on the other party. There is a very clear situation that Israel killed civilians in international waters. First of all, they should bear that responsibility,” the Web site of the Turkish daily Hurriyet quoted Davutoglu as saying during a press conference in Brussels, where he met his Belgian counterpart.
“Turkey bears no responsibility in this case and is determined to protect the rights of its own citizens,” Davutoglu said.
According to Hurriyet, Belgian Foreign Minister Vanackere said his country regretted the disproportionate use of force Israel employed against the aid flotilla and demanded an independent, impartial inquiry.
According to the report, Davutoglu expressed Turkey’s confidence in the UN-led panel and its hopes that the panel would determine the responsible party for the incident in conformity with international law.
Davutoglu, however, may be disappointed, because a UN spokesman, following the first meeting of the panel set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the panel was not established to determine criminal responsibility, but rather to probe the incident and give recommendations.
Ban, on his first meeting with the panel, said he hoped it would contribute to the “peace process” and to improving Turkish-Israeli relations.
He advised the panel to submit a progress report by September 15.
The panel is headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, with a former president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, serving as vice chairman.
After blogging their way through a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, a wine festival, the intricate web of the Old City’s holy sites, Masada, the nightlife of Tel Aviv and more, a hand-picked group of four prolific online writers made their way to a hill in the capital’s southern neighborhood of Gilo on Tuesday afternoon and gazed out over the sprawling hillsides and sun-kissed minarets of Palestinian Authority- controlled Bethlehem.
The idea was to shift the focus of the bloggers’ trip – which until Tuesday had been spent familiarizing them with everyday life here and “softer,” domestic issues – to the Joseph Ciechanover, while Turkey is represented by former senior Turkish diplomat Özdem Sanberk.
No information was disseminated about the panel’s first meeting, held on Tuesday afternoon after its session with the Ban.
But several statements from the UN seemed intent on defusing tempers flared by Ban’s statement at Monday’s press conference that there was no agreement that the panel would refrain from questioning Israeli soldiers.
Asked twice by a journalist – whose phrasing of the question revealed an anti-Israel agenda – whether there was an agreement that the panel would not interview Israeli soldiers, Ban replied, “There was no such agreement behind the scenes.”
After Ban’s statement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office released its own statement saying that the prime minister “makes it absolutely clear that Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”
On Tuesday, however, after noting that all four panel members – including Ciechanover – had attended Tuesday’s meeting, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky repeatedly emphasized to the press that “the cooperation of the parties is crucial to the panel’s work.”
When asked whether the panel would have the power to compel people to appear before it and testify, Nesirky responded, “Absolutely not.”
“This is not a criminal investigation,” Nesirky said. “We’ve said that clearly and repeatedly, and it’s not looking into individual criminal responsibility. That is not its role.”
A statement released by the secretary-general’s office after the press conference underscored the point, saying that the panel “is not designed to determine individual criminal responsibility, but to examine and identify the facts, circumstances and the context of the incident, as well as to recommend ways of avoiding future incidents.
“For that purpose, the panel will receive and review reports of national investigations into the incident and request such clarifications and information as it may require from relevant national authorities.”
The secretary-general’s statement also referenced the support received from both the Israeli and Turkish governments in establishing his panel.
Israel maintains that in understandings reached with Ban before Israel agreed to take part in the panel, it was agreed that the investigation would be based on reports from the investigative committees in Israel and Turkey.
Any requests to further question Israelis would have to be approved by Israel.
It did not appear, however, that these understandings were written and signed, leaving the panel’s mandate somewhat murky and open to interpretation.
For instance, whereas Ban called the panel an “investigative panel,” Israeli diplomatic officials over the last few days have been calling it a “review panel.”
Ban, at his press conference on Monday, said the panel had a “robust mandate.”
“It needs to examine and identify the facts, circumstances and the context of the incident, as well as to recommend ways to avoid future incident,” he said.
“Those are very important mandates.
The panel will decide what steps it may need to take, in cooperation with the national authorities, as their work evolves.”
Though neither the Turkish nor Israeli national investigations into the May 31 incident are close to concluding, a representative of the secretary-general’s office said on Tuesday that the UN panel “does not have to wait for the completion because there is already a lot of information available.”