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US takes the sting out of UN council resolution

Turkish envoy says ambiguity in wording is 'a small price to pay to keep Israel isolated'.

NEW YORK // When Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, entered the UN Security Council on Monday afternoon, he urged the 15-nation body to condemn Israel's deadly commando raid on the Gaza aid flotilla "in the strongest terms".

Using powerful language, Ankara's envoy labelled the operation "murder conducted by a state" and "banditry and piracy" on the high seas, while calling on the UN to launch an "independent international investigation" that brings the perpetrators to justice. But after 13 hours of diplomatic wrangling, Turkish and Arab diplomats left the Manhattan-based chamber yesterday with a compromise statement that had been significantly watered-down by Israel's stalwart council ally: the United States.

The agreed presidential statement "deeply regrets the loss of life" aboard the aid flotilla and called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation" - without specifying whether this is conducted by Israel's military, the UN or another body. Upon leaving the chamber in the early hours, diplomats acknowledged that the outcome text is a compromise between 15 nations with divergent views, offering enough ambiguity for the Americans, Israelis and Arabs to assert their own interpretations.

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff, said the "text reads pretty clearly" and reinforces the American position that "Israel can conduct a credible and impartial, transparent, prompt investigation internally". His Palestinian counterpart, Riyadh Mansour, said the statement can be "read in more than one way". Over the coming days, diplomats from Arab and Muslim nations "will be converging on the office of the [UN] secretary general [Ban Ki-moon], asking him to ? appoint individuals who are capable of conducting an independent investigation," he said.

While expressing "frustration" at failing to negotiate a tougher condemnation of the Israeli marine attack, which left at least nine activists dead, Mr Mansour said ambiguity in the wording was "a small price to pay to keep Israel isolated". Mr Ban has yet to determine who will carry out the probe and will be "discussing a future course of action" with Turkey, Israel and Security Council members over coming days, his spokeswoman, Maria Okabe, told reporters yesterday.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva debated a draft resolution backed by Pakistan and Sudan that condemns an "outrageous attack" and calls for independent investigators to travel to Israel and probe the allegations. The 47-nation body's previous investigations have criticised Israel heavily. While Palestinian supporters portray the water-borne activists as peaceful deliverers of much-needed aid, the Israelis describe those aboard the so-called "freedom flotilla" as provocative, armed thugs who sought to create an international crisis.

Analysts are divided over an incident that underlines long-established arguments over Israel's right to self-defence, the morality of its blockade on Gaza's struggling 1.5 million citizens and whether the Jewish state overreacts with unnecessary force. "Any investigation must be done by an independent body, otherwise it will be seen as an inside-job," said Meir Javedanfar, the director of the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company. Sara Hassan, a regional analyst for the forecast group IHS Global Insight, said: "The Americans are buying the Israelis time ? giving them some breathing space."

Opinions were divided over whether providing unwavering diplomatic support for Israel is in Washington's best interests. Mr Javedanfar said Israel was "running out of favours" and warned his countrymen are "becoming a liability for the Americans". "If the US wants to be a true friend of Israel it must learn to be an honest broker and be seen to be such. At present the US is seen as endorsing what most of the international community see as totally unacceptable," said Oliver McTernan, the director of the interfaith group Forward Thinking. "It exposes the moral and intellectual weakness of US policy."

But Conn Carroll, an editor for the conservative US think tank, The Heritage Foundation, described the importance of supporting its Israeli ally in a "tough neighbourhood" beside countries such as Iran, which Washington accuses of seeking nuclear weapons. "When the US distances itself from Israel, as the Obama administration has done, it makes confrontation and conflict in the region more likely, not less."


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