Real bullets and electroshocks: witnesses tell of Gaza raid

1st June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Shocked activists Tuesday recounted how Israeli troops stormed on deck firing tear gas, electroshock weapons and real bullets at unarmed passengers as they raided the ill-fated Gaza aid flotilla.

Israel has blamed activists on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, for the deadly outcome to Monday's pre-dawn raid, saying they attacked soldiers with clubs and knives as they boarded.

But a group of German witnesses who experienced the assault first hand before being detained and deported denied anyone on board was armed with more than a few wooden sticks.

"Personally I saw two and a half wooden batons that were used ... There was really nothing else. We never saw any knives," Norman Paech, a 72-year-old former member of parliament told reporters in Berlin.

"The Israeli government justifies the raid because they were attacked. This is absolutely not the case," said Paech, wrapped in a blue blanket and visibly shaken by the bloody outcome to the mission

"This was not an act of self-defence."

A German doctor on the ship, Matthias Jochheim, who had bloodstains on his trousers from people he treated, said he had personally seen four dead people and expected the total death toll to be 15.

The Israeli military says nine passengers were killed in the fight.

Paech, a former MP from the far-left Die Linke party, said he took photographic evidence but that his camera had been confiscated.

He denied Israel's suggestion that passengers had been lying in ambush.

"We had not prepared in any way to fight. We didn't even consider it," he added. "No violence, no resistance -- because we knew very well that we would have absolutely no chance against soldiers like this.

"This was an attack in international waters on a peaceful mission... This was a clear act of piracy," he added.

The former MP's comments were backed up by two others on board the convoy, MPs Inge Hoeger, 59, and Annette Groth, 56.

"We felt like we were in a war, like we were being kidnapped," Hoeger said. "Nobody had a weapon."

Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told parliament an Australian man on board the main ship had undergone surgery after being shot in the leg.

The Mavi Marmara was one of six ships carrying some 10,000 tonnes of supplies to Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007 when the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory.

A Greek activist on one of the smaller boats, the Eleftheri Mesogeio, said Israeli troops used rubber bullets, tear gas and electroshock weapons to subdue those aboard.

Commandos jumped onto the ship at around 0530 GMT, an hour after the clashes on the Mavi Marmara, he said.

"They fired rubber coated bullets, tear gas and then used electroshock weapons on some activists," he told Skai television after Israel deported him and five compatriots to Athens.

A Frenchman detained on another of the six ships told reporters his fellow passengers offered no resistance to arrest.

"The instructions were clear. Do not provoke, remain calm and go to meet them (the commandos) saying 'We are pacifists and not terrorists'," Youssef Benderbal said after arriving at a Paris airport.

"Masked commandos took possession of the ship. They were aiming for the captain's cabin," said Benderbal, a member of a French aid group for Palestinians.

Israel detained 686 passengers after the raid.

As first-hand accounts began to emerge from deported activists, hundreds of foreign nationals were still being held.

They include aid workers and at least three reporters -- two Australians and a Spaniard -- who have refused to sign their deportation papers.

The Greek passenger Grigoropoulos said he was kept incommunicado in "wretched detention conditions" at the Israeli port of Ashdod, denied access to a lawyer and made to sign papers he did not understand.

He also said "two Greek activists were beaten up" there by Israeli police.

In Britain, relatives of several dozen Britons on board the flotilla waited anxiously for news of their loved ones.

"It's absolutely terrible not knowing what has happened to him and it's terrible that the British government hasn't done more but they don't want to fall out with Israel," said Rachel Bridgeland, whose partner was on board.

© 2010 AFP

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