Israelis fired 308 bullets at aid ship


Israeli commandos fired 308 live bullets aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship last May to repel passengers who attacked them with lethal weapons including a snatched Uzi machine pistol, Israel's top general said today.

In a sometimes testy second round of testimony before a state-appointed inquest, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi insisted the navy's killing of nine pro-Palestinian Turks on the converted cruise ship Mavi Marmara had been unavoidable.

Marine commandos were equipped with riot-dispersal gear but quickly switched to live fire to confront armed passengers because "if they had not done this, there would have been more casualties," Mr Ashkenazi told the six-member Turkel Commission.

Ankara, which wants compensation and an apology from Israel, has dismissed the Turkel panel as  lacking in scope.

But the commission has invited testimony from Mavi Marmara passengers, many of whom insist the commandos' onslaught was unprovoked, and signalled it may probe Israel's navy deeper.

Mr Ashkenazi said 308 live rounds were fired by the troops. A top aide to the general told reporters 70 of these were aimed to cause injury, while the rest were warning shots.

That appeared consistent with Turkish forensic findings that the nine dead activists were shot a total of 30 times, and there were gunshot wounds among another 24 passengers who were hurt.

"Those who are asking questions (about tactics) should propose an alternative solution," Mr Ashkenazi said.

The Mavi Marmara and five other ships were trying to run an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas Islamists.