GENEVA, Aug 23 (Reuters/Robert Evans) - Investigators from the United Nations Human Rights Council have begun questioning witnesses of Israel
's May 31 capture of a Gaza
-bound boat in which nine people died, the UN said on Monday.
An official statement said the 3-person team was now in Turkey, under whose flag the vessel was registered, after hearing other witnesses in London and Geneva. After two weeks, it would move on to Amman in Jordan.
The team -- judges from Britain and Trinidad and a Malaysian human rights campaigner -- has been refused entry by Israel which says pro-Palestinian activists on the boat were killed when they fought back against its commandos.
The trio are due to present their report to the 47-nation council on Sept. 27, according to a schedule for the body's 3-week autumn session which starts on Sept. 13.
The council, where members of the 57-country Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and its developing country allies as well as Russia, Cuba and China have an inbuilt majority, set up the probe in June, despite strong Western reservations.
Since it was set up in 2006 to replace a discredited predecessor, it has consistently focused on Israel and its treatment of Palestinians while skirting around perceived rights violations in Islamic and other developing countries.
The council's decision on the investigation, on a resolution tabled by Pakistan for the OIC, was taken despite the announcement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he was setting up an international probe.
Diplomats said Ban was unhappy at the council move, which fitted a pattern of overt and indirect challenges from the majority in the body to the authority of the U.N. chief and of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
Israel itself is holding its own investigations behind closed doors. Last week its defence forces chief told one inquiry that the commandos, who dropped onto the boat from helicopters, were not ready for the violent resistance they met.
The boat was part of a flotilla
whose organisers said it was taking aid supplies to Islamist Hamas
-controlled Gaza, which is under blockade by both Israel and Egypt. OIC-member Egypt itself backed the creation of the council probe.
Israel had warned it would not let the flotilla through, arguing that it could be carrying materiel likely to help Hamas militants whom it accuses of threatening Israeli security. But it has since eased its Gaza blockade.
The incident sparked a serious deterioration of already strained links between Israel and Turkey after many years of a close relationship which included military cooperation.
Earlier this month, current rights council president and Thai ambassador Sihasak Phuanketkeow said the team -- whose members he chose -- would not overlap with Ban's probe but complement it.