JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the first witness to testify before the committee investigating a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid fleet, an official said as the panel began deliberations on Monday.
"The prime minister will be the first witness called before the committee," spokesman Ofer Lefler told AFP, saying that a date had not yet been set for him to testify.
The decision to quiz Netanyahu was taken as the Tirkel Commission officially opened its investigation into the deadly events of May 31.
Lefler said Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi would also appear before the commission, with all the major testimony likely to happen "some time after Netanyahu comes back from Washington."
The Israeli leader is due at the White House for talks with US President Barack Obama on July 6.
The panel was set up two weeks after the botched operation in which Israeli naval commandos stormed a fleet of aid ships trying to run the Gaza blockade, killing nine Turkish activists and wounding scores of passengers.
The work of the three-man committee led by retired Supreme Court judge Yaacov Tirkel will be observed by two international observers, and will hear testimony from all of the top political and military decision makers involved in planning the raid.
Monday's session largely focused on the agenda and legal procedures of the inquiry, the aim of which is to 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 joined the flotilla.
"This morning, the committee began its discussions," Tirkel said at a news conference in Jerusalem. "The aim is to complete the inquiry in the shortest time possible."
The panel's deliberations, which will be open to the public, will be monitored by two international observers -- Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble and Ken Watkin, former judge advocate general of the Canadian military.
Trimble insisted to reporters that those on the panel are determined to ensure the inquiry would "be rigorous and that it can thereby make a contribution to peace."
Sources close to the panel said vice prime minister Minister Yaalon, who was in charge at the time of the raid as Netanyahu was out of the country, would also be questioned, as would other senior ministers close to the premier.
But Israel has made clear that the committee will not hear any direct testimony from troops involved in the raid.
It also remains unclear what powers Trimble and Watkin will have.
Neither will be able to vote in relation to the proceedings and conclusions of the commission and they could also denied access to any information which could cause substantial harm to national security or to the state's foreign relations, the prime minister's office has said.
The inquiry will run alongside another probe by the military, which began in early June under retired brigadier general Giora Eiland, into the events of May 31.
That military investigation is set to end by July 4 at the latest, after which its results will be submitted to the Tirkel Commission.
Israel's government watchdog, the state comptroller, has also said it will launch its own investigation into the decision-making process that led to the deadly attack on the aid flotilla.
Israel says its commandos used force after they were attacked with sticks and stabbed as soon as they landed on the Turkish ferry "Mavi Marmara." But those on board the ship insist the troops opened fire as soon as they landed.
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