'If we weren't crying so much we'd be laughing at that. Everyone has sworn not to carry weapons'
Published 01/06/2010 | 05:00
ONE Israeli TV channel was tagging the rolling news item as "troubles at sea" -- but this seemed like a wild understatement for the deadly events that unfurled on the Mediterranean waters last night, sparking global protests and condemnation, and placing Israel in the eye of a diplomatic storm.
At least 10 activists were killed and dozens more injured in a dawn clash with Israeli naval commandos that ambushed their six-ship flotilla. Around 700 people, including several Irish citizens on board the boats, were attempting to deliver $10,000 of humanitarian aid to Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007.
The boats were reportedly in international waters, about 40 miles out to sea at the time of the raid.
Israeli government officials said that the military had acted in self-defence after being attacked by armed and deliberately provocative anti-Israel activists.
"The armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organisation was a premeditated and outrageous provocation," said Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon. "The organisers' intent was violent, their method was violent, and unfortunately, the results were violent."
The Israeli army released footage it claimed showed that, on boarding the largest of the flotilla boats, the Mavi Marama, its soldiers were attacked with guns, knives and metal bars.
Israeli journalists who were embedded on naval boats corroborated this story. Communications aboard the flotilla have been down since around 2.30am, but other campaigners from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla have refuted Israel's account.
"If we weren't crying so much we'd be laughing at that," said Mary Hughes, speaking from Cyprus.
"Everyone involved has a history of non-violence and everyone signs a declaration swearing they will not carry weapons or instigate violence -- it's an absolute rule."
Hughes says she is one of those planning to sail the Irish aid boat, the Rachel Corrie, to Gaza "very soon". The boat was supposed to be part of the flotilla that sailed yesterday, but was damaged while in Malta.
Several Irish citizens were on board the flotilla, including Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who was reportedly arrested as the flotilla was forced to disembark at the Israeli port of Ashdod, around 30km north of Gaza. Dozens of injured activists were taken to hospitals across Israel for treatment.
Israeli media reported that 42 people, including eight soldiers, were injured in the incident. None of the killed or injured has yet been identified.
Nearly 16 hours after the raid, the last of the six ships, the Turkish flag-bearing Mavi Marama, was towed by Israeli naval troops into Ashdod port.
Dozens of activists have been detained for refusing to sign Israel's deportation orders. Israel officials have said they plan to deport the 700 or so campaigners on the flotilla but that those who refuse deportation would be detained.