Israeli commandos: Gaza flotilla crew tried to lynch us
Israel tows Gaza flotilla to Ashdod after at least 10 activists killed in clashes with navy; IDF says 2 commandos seriously wounded as troops tried to board.
- Confrontation took place in international waters
- IDF: Passengers attacked lone commando with iron bars, opened fire
- Flotilla had reportedly changed course to avoid confrontation
The left-wing activists on board a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip tried to lynch the Israel Navy commandos who stormed their Turkish-flagged ship early Monday, Israel Defense Forces sources told Haaretz.
The commandos, who intercepted the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara after it ignored orders to turn back, said they encountered violent resistance from activists armed with sticks and knives. According to the soldiers, the activists threw one of their comrades from the upper deck to the lower after they boarded.
An Israeli military spokesman said some of the commandos were equipped with paintball guns but the non-lethal weapons were not enough against activists who charged in with batons.
“They had pistols with live ammunition as back-up, to defend themselves,” he said.
One of the commandos told reporters he descended by rope from a helicopter onto one of the six ships in the convoy and was immediately attacked by a group of people waiting for them.
“They beat us with metal sticks and knives,” he said. “There was live fire at some point against us.”
A Reuters cameraman on the Israeli navy ship Kidon close to the six-vessel aid convoy said commanders monitoring the operation were surprised by the strong resistance put up by the pro-Palestinian activists.
One of the commandos said some of the soldiers were stripped of their helmets and equipment and a number were tossed from the top deck to a lower deck and then leapt into the sea to save themselves.
“They jumped me, hit me with clubs and bottles and stole my rifle,” one of the commandos said. “I pulled out my pistol and had no choice but to shoot.”
The soldiers said they were forced to open fire after the activists struck one of their comrades in the head and trampled on him. A senior field commander ordered the soldiers then to respond with fire, a decision which the commandos said received full backing the military echelon.
The IDF said its rules of engagement allowed troops to open fire in what it called a “life-threatening situation”.
At least 10 people were killed and several more wounded after the Israel Navy troops opened fire on the six-ship flotilla. Unofficial reports put the death toll at between 14 and 20.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement: “Navy fighters took control of six ships that tried to violate the naval blockade (of the Gaza Strip) … During the takeover, the soldiers encountered serious physical violence by the protesters, who attacked them with live fire.”
Turkey’s NTV said over 60 were also wounded after IDF vessels stormed the flotilla in international waters.
The IDF confirmed that at least seven navy commandos had been wounded, at least two of them seriously, in a fight which apparently broke out after activists tried to seize their weapons.
Elite troops from Shayetet 13, a naval commando unit, boarded the protest boats at around 4:00 A.M. Earlier Monday, Al Jazeera reported that the Gaza aid flotilla had changed course to avoid a confrontation with Israeli warships.
The Israeli naval vessels reportedly made contact earlier with the six-ship flotilla, which is carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza.
Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists were on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators.
The Israeli navy was operating under the assumption that the activists manning the boats would not heed their calls to turn around, and Israeli troops were prepared to board the ships and steer them away from the Gaza shores and toward the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
Huwaida Arraf, one of the flotilla organizers, said the six-ship flotilla began the journey from international waters off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday afternoon after two days of delays. According to organizers, the flotilla was expected to reach Gaza, about 400 kilometers away, on Monday afternoon, and two more ships would follow in a second wave.
The flotilla was fully prepared for the different scenarios that might arise, and organizers were hopeful that Israeli authorities would do what’s right and not stop the convoy, one of the organizers said.