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2 August - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced the launch of a panel of inquiry on the 31 May incident in which Israel raided a six-ship convoy in international waters that was carrying humanitarian goods and activists and heading for Gaza.

“This is an unprecedented development,” said the United Nations chief, who has been engaged in intensive consultations for the past two months on setting up an inquiry into the tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of nine civilians and the wounding of at least 30 others.

The aid flotilla, which included three Turkish-registered vessels, was trying to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza, which has been subject to a three-year blockade by Israel for what it called security reasons after Hamas took power in the territory in 2007.

The former New Zealand prime minister, Geoffrey Palmer, will serve as chair of the panel and the outgoing President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, will be vice-chair.

The panel will have two additional members, one each from Israel and Turkey, and will begin its work on 10 August. It is expected to submit the first progress report by mid-September.

UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky clarified that the panel, which will be based at UN Headquarters in New York, is not a criminal investigation.

“It has been tasked with making findings about the facts, circumstances and context of the incident, as well as recommending ways of avoiding similar incidents in the future,” he told reporters, adding that it is specifically tasked with reviewing the reports of national investigations into the incident.

He added that it will be up to the Secretary-General, once he receives the report of the panel, to decide what further steps to take.

Mr. Ban thanked the leaders of Israel and Turkey for their “spirit of compromise and forward-looking cooperation,” adding that he hoped today's agreement will impact positively on the relationship between the two countries as well as the overall situation in the Middle East.

In addition to the panel announced today, the UN Human Rights Council has a three-member fact-finding mission investigating violations of international law resulting from the May incident.

The team – comprising Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Desmond de Silva of the United Kingdom and Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia – was set up last month and is expected to report to the Council in September on its work.