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Thursday June 3, 2010 8:36 AM (EST+7)
ACCOUNTS: What happened on the Mavi Marmara?

Read more: Hanin Zuabi, Freedom Flotilla , Mavi Marmara, aid convoy, convoy, international casualties, protests

RAMALLAH, June 2 (JMCC) - Lawyers have been given limited access to injured passengers from the fleet of ships intercepted by Israeli forces early Monday morning. But until their affidavits are made public, the accounts of the released passengers are now appearing in the media.

Some passengers are reporting that two or three Israeli soldiers were initially captured by passengers on the Turkish ship.

A Kuwaiti on board the ship said Turkish passengers had captured three Israeli soldiers as the ship was attacked. The passengers who had captured the men “called them Shalit One, Shalit Two and Shalit Three”, after the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, said Salah al Ahmed, 45.

Returning activists claim that not all of those on board have been accounted for.

“We are still missing people from the Marmara,” said Sarah Colborne, director of Campaigns and Operations for the Palestine Solidarity Movement, who was on board the ship.

One UK consular official said to the Times: “We were told initially there were 37, and then it transpired there were 34.

“Because there was lack of access it was a case of seeing who turned up.

“It’s been very difficult to get full information out of Israel. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

Speaking to The Times, Ms Colborne said the Marmara had started retreating further into international waters when Israeli military vessels approached them at around 11pm on Sunday night. They had radioed the Israelis with messages saying ‘please don’t attack’.

She said that at around 4am soldiers started to board the boat using small craft and a helicopter.

“A helicopter arrived attempting to land Israeli military personnel. They seemed to be firing from the craft.”

Knesset member Haneen Zoubi provided the most comprehensive account, describing how the Mavi Marmara was boarded shortly after 4 am in the morning. Al-Jazeera International journalist Muhammed Val said that passengers were rising to carry out the early-morning prayer when the ship came under heavy, heavy bombardment.

Haneen Zoubi said Israeli naval vessels had surrounded the flotilla’s flagship, the Mavi Marmara, and fired on it a few minutes before commandos abseiled from a helicopter directly above them.

Terrified passengers had been forced off the deck when water was sprayed at them. She said she was not aware of any provocation or resistance by the passengers, who were all unarmed.

She added that within minutes of the raid beginning, three bodies had been brought to the main room on the upper deck in which she and most other passengers were confined. Two had gunshot wounds to the head, in what she suggested had been executions.

Two other passengers slowly bled to death in the room after Israeli soldiers ignored messages in Hebrew she had held up at the window calling for medical help to save them. She said she saw seven other passengers seriously wounded.

She charged the Israeli military with planning to inflict a large number of casualties to frighten convoy organizers from carrying out other attempts to break the blockade.

Activist and organizer Huwaida Arraf watched from a different boat as Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara.

Arraf, a longtime activist with the Free Gaza Movement, said she saw Israeli sailors throw concussion grenades aboard the vessel. She heard the crackle of gunfire. As an Israeli military helicopter clattered above, the Marmara's passengers, clad in orange life vests, aimed powerful water hoses to keep soldiers from clambering up its sides, she said.

Nilufer Cetin, a Turkish activist who hid in the bathroom with her one-year-old child, said that the ship became a lake of blood.

The operation started immediately with firing, she told waiting reporters as she arrived in Istanbul carrying her baby. First it was warning shots, but when the Mavi Marmara wouldn't stop, these warnings turned into an attack.

Zouabi said she feared for her own life and that she herself did not see any passenger resistance.

“There was not a single passenger who raised a baton,” Zuabi claimed. “From where I stood, in any case I did not see any such thing. There was shooting, but I don’t know if it was with live bullets or not. There was shooting from the boats in our direction. The message was clear for us – that we should understand that our lives were in danger. We passed along messages that we did not want confrontation. What we saw was five bodies. There were only civilians and there were no weapons. I had the feeling that I might not get off the boat alive.”







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