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Thursday 23 November 2017

'I was lucky, but I'd do it all again and again and again'

Fergus Black

THEY emerged just as dawn broke, bearing down at high speed in navy corvettes and zodiac inflatable boats on the flotilla of ships.

The terrifying moments when Israeli commandos intercepted the convoy carrying aid to Gaza, firing tasers and stun grenades, were graphically retold yesterday by the first Irish activist to be deported following Monday's dawn raid.

"I was really one of the lucky ones. I am one of the survivors," Shane Dillon (36) said, adding that he was looking forward to a relaxing pint of Guinness after his ordeal.

Mr Dillon said that while his family were delighted that he had returned safely, he would not hesitate to repeat the Gaza mission "again and again and again".

Mr Dillon -- who had been on Challenger 1, one of the six-vessel flotilla -- told how his ship tried to break away from the convoy as commandos attacked the MV Mavi Marmara, where up to 10 activists were killed.

As the flotilla slowly steamed towards Gaza, they received numerous calls from the Israeli Defence Force requesting the identity of the master, the number of passengers and the port of destination from each vessel in the convoy.

Mr Dillon told a news conference that they replied that they were a humanitarian convoy proceeding towards Gaza and had no military intention. But they were warned by the Israelis that if they continued on their course they would be entering a combat zone and they were advised to alter their course and make for the port of Ashdod.

The MV Mavi Marmara then dropped back to check if there was anything astern of the flotilla and at this point all their communications and satellite phones were jammed.

"We then got a call from the Marmara to advise us of two targets approaching on our port quarter. I looked around and saw two corvette-type vessels approaching at high speed. I could also make out unlit zodiacs approaching us at high speed."

He sounded the ship's bell and woke up the skipper and journalists on board. By this stage everybody was awake on the other vessels, which turned on their deck lights and started up their fire fighting defences by spraying water over the sides.

"We all closed up and we came right in on to the port quarter of the Marmara. She was then attacked from the stern by zodiacs using stun grenades and tasers. We could see the grenades going off and see the tasers being deployed. They were also firing paintballs at the passengers and crew of the Marmara."

Mr Dillon said he and his skipper on Challenger, the smallest ship in the flotilla, decided to break away to get photo and video footage of what was happening.

They were making 22 knots and being shadowed all the time by one of the corvettes; but because their engine was running at such a high speed they lost oil pressure and were forced to stop. The Israelis then approached, letting off illumination flares.

After boarding, they fired tasers, hitting two journalists and also fired paintballs and used the back of their rifles on some of those on board. One woman was hit point blank with a paintball which broke her nose.

All on board were then taken to Ashdod and, because he agreed to sign a deportation order, Mr Dillon said he was one of the first to be taken off the ship and processed before being flown home.

Mr Dillon said he did not see any weapons being used on the ships and any of the so-called weapons identified by the Israelis were typical equipment to be found on a ship, such as knives from the galley and a sledgehammer that was used for anchoring cables.

Irish Independent

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