ISTANBUL (Reuters) - 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 9 dead bodies, but we have a longer list of missing people,” Yildirim said at Istanbul airport after returning from Israel, where he said he had been kept in custody and questioned for three days.
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,” 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,” Yildirim said on Thursday.
“By this decision, our friends accepted death, and we threw all the guns we took from them into the sea.”
Israel said its troops fired in self-defence during an operation to seize a flotilla of ships intended to break a blockade it has imposed on the Gaza strip. Activists had attacked soldiers with batons, knives and two pistols seized from marines,
It said two of those killed had used the seized pistols to wound two commandos.
Yildirim 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 neutralize them,” Yildirim said.
Describing the dead as matyrs, 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.
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 5 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’s Israeli interrogators told him that the soldiers were given permission to use live ammunition only 35 minutes into the operation. The charity chief said some activists had already been wounded by casing from the shock blast and gas bombs used in the initial assault.
He said soldiers had herded activists on deck and a helicopter had sprayed them with water to subdue them.
Editing by Ralph Boulton, reporting by Ece Toksabay