Activists on board a six-ship flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip tried to lynch the Israel Navy commandos
who boarded their Turkish-flagged boat early Monday, Israel Defense
Forces sources told Haaretz on Monday afternoon. At least nine people
were killed and several more were wounded in the fighting that erupted
aboard one of the ships.
The IDF confirmed that at least seven Navy commandos had been wounded, two of them seriously, in a fight which apparently broke
out after activists tried to seize their weapons.
The commandos, who intercepted the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara after it
ignored orders to turn back from its course to Gaza, said they had
encountered violent resistance from activists armed with sticks and
knives. According to the commandos, the activists threw one of the
soldiers from the upper deck to the lower after they boarded. The
organizers of the flotilla said the troops opened fire first.
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. The IDF said it had confiscated two pistols from the boat.
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 Israel Navy ship Kidon, sailing close to the
convoy, said IDF 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 several were tossed from the top deck to a
lower deck, forcing them to jump into the sea to escape.
"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
flotilla holding a knife" class="" style="" src="http://www.haaretz.com/polopoly_fs/1.293313.1275312330%21/image/577873088.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_295/577873088.jpg" alt="A left-wing activist on board the Gaza flotilla holding a knife"">
A left-wing activist on board the Gaza flotilla holding a knife after Israel Navy commandos boarded their ship on May 31, 2010.
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 IDF 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".
"Navy fighters took control of six ships that tried to violate the naval
blockade [of the Gaza Strip]," said a statement from the IDF. "During
the takeover, the soldiers encountered serious physical violence by the
protesters, who attacked them with live fire."
Elite troops from Shayetet 13, a naval commando unit, boarded the protest
boats at around 4:00 A.M. Al Jazeera reported Monday morning that the
Gaza aid flotilla had changed course to avoid a confrontation with
Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists were on the boats, including 1976 Nobel
Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland,
European legislators. The boats were carrying 10,000 tons of
humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza.
convoy" class="" style="" src="http://www.haaretz.com/polopoly_fs/1.293263.1275313103%21/image/3001994057.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_295/3001994057.jpg" alt="A man wounded aboard a Gaza-bound aid convoy"">
A man wounded aboard a Gaza-bound aid convoy arrives at an Israeli hospital, May 31, 2010
|Photo by: Ofer Vaknin|
The Israel Navy had been operating under the assumption that the activists manning the
boats would not heed their calls to turn around, and Israeli troops had
been prepared to board the ships to steer them away from the Gaza shores
toward the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
Huwaida Arraf, one of the flotilla organizers, said the conv9oy began the
journey from international waters off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday
afternoon, after two days of delays. According to organizers, the
flotilla had been expected to reach Gaza, about 400 kilometers away, on
Monday afternoon, and two more ships had been expected to follow in a