Activists 'threw Israeli guns into sea'

Thu, Jun 3, 2010, 01:00

The head of a Turkish charity that organised the aid flotilla attacked by Israeli forces said activists had rushed some of the soldiers and snatched their weapons, but had thrown them overboard without using them.

Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), denied Israeli accounts of events on board the Mavi Maramara after Israeli commandos stormed the ship on Monday in an operation that resulted in at least nine people being killed.

"We were handed nine dead bodies, but we have a longer list of missing people," Mr Yildirim said at Istanbul airport after returning from Israel, where he said he had been kept in custody and questioned for three days.

Mr Yildirim, who was on board the vessel, said some of the activists had grabbed guns off 10 soldiers in self-defence. "Yes, we took their guns. It would be self defence even if we fired their guns," Mr Yildirim said, adding that people shouted to them not to use the weapons.

"We told our friends on board: "We will die, become martyrs, but never let us be shown . . . as the ones who used guns," Mr Yildirim said today. "By this decision, our friends accepted death, and we threw all the guns we took from them into the sea."

He said the Israeli commandos fired rubber bullets from close range before switching to live ammunition, after some activists on board had attacked them with chairs and bats.

"The Israelis published videos of the bats used on the ship, but they damaged their 'strong Israeli army' image, as the world saw that a bunch of volunteers can neutralise them," he said.

Describing the dead as martyrs, Mr Yilirim said his charity would continue to organise aid convoys until Israel was forced to end the blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Mr Yildirim said an Indonesian doctor was shot in the stomach as he helped a wounded Israeli soldier.

"As the clash was going on upstairs on the deck, we were taking care of Israelis downstairs, as we gave them water, we were informed that our friends died there," Mr Yildirim said.

"We told the Indonesian doctor to take the soldier back. He took his patient back, and as he was going back, they shot him 5 times in the stomach." He added soldiers had herded activists on deck and a helicopter had sprayed them with water to subdue them.