Source Times Online
Six of the nine passengers killed in an Israeli raid on an aid convoy bound for Gaza were shot by a single Israeli commando, who is being considered for a medal of valour for saving his injured comrades as passengers attacked them with clubs, knives and even guns they had taken from downed Navy Seals.
Fresh details of the controversial raid, which has led to accusations of “piracy” and “state terrorism” being levelled against Israel, and which wrecked its strategic partnership with Turkey, emerged yesterday. There were reports that passengers who attacked the Israeli boarding party had been dragging three captured commandos into the hold of the ship when the shooting broke out.
And a British passenger who witnessed the deadly pre-dawn encounter in international waters said that some of the more peaceful activists on board had tried to protect captured Israeli soldiers being set upon by a hardcore of passengers, most of them believed to be Turks linked to an Islamic charity accused by Israel of having links to extremists.
The Israeli commando who killed six of the passengers of Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ferry owned by the IHH charity, said that he had been the last of 15 soldiers to rappel down the rope from an overhead helicopter on to the decks of the ship, which he described as “a battlefield”.
Identified for security reasons only as Staff Sergeant S, he said that contrary to initial Israeli Army reports, the shooting had started within minutes as he and his comrades were set upon by a “mob of mercenaries”.
As he landed on the ship’s top deck, he said he saw three of his superior officers who had landed ahead of him lying wounded, one with a bullet wound to the stomach, another shot in the knee and the third beaten unconscious.
Taking charge, he formed his men in a perimeter around the wounded, pulled his 9mm Glock pistol and opened fire on passengers he accused of shooting at the boarding party with guns taken off the first soldiers, who had been overwhelmed as they landed one by one.
“When I hit the deck, I was immediately attacked by people with bats, metal pipes and axes,” the sergeant recalled. “These were without a doubt terrorists. I could see the murderous rage in their eyes and that they were coming to kill us.”
He said he saw one of the passengers holding a seized pistol to another Israeli commando’s head.
His accusation that his assailants were mercenaries was based on the large amounts of cash found on a number of the detained and killed passengers, although other officials have suggested the money was destined to be given to Hamas in Gaza if the convoy succeeded in breaking the Israeli naval blockade.
New footage released by Israel, and apparently filmed by activists before the boarding had started before dawn on Monday, showed an Israeli assault craft full of helmeted commandos pull alongside the Mavi Marmara, where men waving metal pipes and a chain leant overboard to ward them off.
Others were emptying fire hoses at the Israeli boat below, while a stun grenade was dropped into the vessel, exploding among the soldiers.
Some Israeli officials have accused the Turks who attacked them of links to terrorist groups, although it was unclear why, in that case, the soldiers of Flotilla 13, the elite Navy Seals unit involved in the operation, were briefed only to expect peaceful resistance.
The question also remained as to why the passengers, if they were indeed terrorists, did not use deadlier weapons against the approaching naval launches and helicopters hovering overhead.
Alexandra Lort-Phillips, 37, an activist from Hackney, was on the Mavi Marmara when it was stormed and described seeing an Israeli soldier taken down into the stairwell below the deck where the soldiers landed.
“I went down the stairwell and there was a massive crowd of people and lots of shouting,” she said, after being deported to Istanbul.
“They had got a soldier who had boarded the ship from the roof. There was a sense of ‘My god, we’ve got an Israeli soldier’. I don’t think we really knew what we were going to do.”
“I saw a gun being taken. His gunbelt was removed and someone, I don’t know who, ran past me with the weapon and disappeared. They could have shot him but didn’t.” She said around 25 people were gathered around the soldier, who was held by his legs and stripped to his underwear as he was restrained.
“The women who were there were shouting ‘Don’t hurt him’.” Ms Lort-Phillips denied he was beaten, but said: “There were obviously some guys there who were extremely agitated by the situation. It is like you’d expect when there’s a fight between men.” As Israel desperately tried to limit the damage caused by the bloodbath on the high seas, the organisers of the aid flotilla said another boat was due to challenge the blockade and make for Gaza at the weekend.
The Rachel Corrie, an Irish-flagged ship, is named after a young American peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while trying to prevent the army from demolishing a Palestinian home in Gaza. Organisers said it was steaming straight for Gaza with Mairead Maguire, winner of an Irish Nobel Peace Prize, on board.