Witnesses describe shootings on Gaza-bound ship

ISTANBUL Thu Jun 3, 2010 7:51pm IST

A frame grab from a video released by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) shows what the IDF says is a pro-Palestinian activist hitting Israeli soldiers with a club-like object upon the arrival of Israeli forces to a Gaza-bound ship May 31, 2010. REUTERS/Handout/IDF

A frame grab from a video released by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) shows what the IDF says is a pro-Palestinian activist hitting Israeli soldiers with a club-like object upon the arrival of Israeli forces to a Gaza-bound ship May 31, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Handout/IDF

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Witnesses aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship gave graphic accounts of people being shot dead after Israeli commandos stormed aboard, but denied activists opened fire with pistols snatched from the boarding party.

Canadian Farooq Burney described watching an elderly man bleed to death, while the head of a Turkish charity that organised the aid flotilla said an Indonesian doctor was shot in the stomach and a photographer in the forehead.

Nine activists were killed in the raid on a convoy of ships heading for Gaza on Monday. Israel said its commandos fired in self-defence after they were clubbed, stabbed and fired upon by activists who had snatched the marines' pistols.

But Burney and Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), said activists aboard the Mavi Marmara never opened fire with weapons wrested from Israelis lowered aboard from helicopters.

"They were trying to land on the boat. So obviously there was this hand-to-hand combat and during that process the people on the boat were basically able to disarm some of the soldiers because they did have guns with them," Burney told Reuters.

"So they basically took the guns away from them and took the cartridges out and threw them away."

Asked if anyone had used the guns against the Israeli commandos, he said: "No, not at all."

Yildirim also denied the Israeli account about use of pistols by activists aboard the flotilla of ships intended to break a blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza strip.

"Yes, we took their guns. It would be self defence even if we fired their guns," Yildirim said.

"We told our friends on board: "We will die, become martyrs, but never let us be shown... as the ones who used guns," he said, adding that people shouted that the weapons should not be used.

"By this decision, our friends accepted death, and we threw all the guns we took from them into the sea."

PLEA TO TREAT WOUNDED

Burney, director of a Qatari educational initiative, said the commandos waited more than an hour before treating the wounded, even though activists made a makeshift sign reading: "S.O.S. .. Please provide medical assistance."

The 37-year-old Canadian said he witnessed one elderly man being shot with what, from the wound, appeared to have been a live round.

"He just passed out in front of us and we couldn't see where he was hit so we opened up his lifejacket and we could clearly see that he was hit in the chest, he was losing a lot of blood," said Burney.

"It was on .. the right, just close to his chest and there was blood coming out from there. He passed away."

Yildirim said at Istanbul airport after returning from Israel, where he said he had been detained and questioned for three days, that some missing activists were unaccounted for.

"We were handed 9 dead bodies, but we have a longer list of missing people," he said.

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," 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 five times in the stomach," he said.

He also described how a photographer was shot in the forehead from a distance of a metre, though it was unclear whether he witnessed it personally.

Another activist was shot as he was surrendering, he said.

"I took off my shirt and waved it, as a white flag. We thought they would stop after seeing the white flag, but they continued killing people," Yildirim said.

"A friend of ours saw two dead bodies in a toilet," he added.

One of the dead was 19-year-old old boy Furkan Dogan, a Turkish citizen with an American passport. State-run Anatolia news agency said he was hit by four bullets in the head and one in the chest.

Anatolia reported that the body of a national taekwando athlete, Cetin Topcuoglu, had also been identified.

Yildirim said his charity would continue to organise aid convoys until Israel was forced to end the blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Algiers; Editing by Charles Dick)

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