Gaza protesters killed in clash with IDF

Up to sixteen members of a Turkish Gaza protest organisation are said to have been killed by Israeli forces after fighting on board a flotilla of ships en route to Gaza.

The ships, part of an ‘aid convoy’ from the ‘Free Gaza’ organisation, a Turkish based group, had left northern Cyprus on Sunday. Six boats carried 600 activists. One of those on board was Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Northern Ireland peace protester who won a Nobel Prize in 1976.

Israeli security had been monitoring the flotilla and, as it neared its destination, the Israeli government offered to escort it into harbour whilst its claimed cargo of aid was unloaded and checked by the Israeli authorities. The group refused the offer. According to Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesman, the boats then ‘charged’ the Israeli vessels. Israeli forces then boarded the convoy.

The Israelis claim that its soldiers were then attacked by the ‘peace protestors’; the group claims it was attacked by the Israelis without provocation. A spokeswoman for the group, Greta Berlin, said ten people had been killed and dozens wounded. She claimed that Israeli troops shot indiscriminately at 'unarmed civilians'. But Israeli media report that between 14 and 16 were dead in a continuing operation. Israeli military sources said four of its men had been injured, one stabbed. The Israeli army said its troops were assaulted with axes and knives.

The Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement this morning that "the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose."

The Israeli ambassador to Turkey was summoned by the foreign ministry in Ankara, as the Israeli consulate in Istanbul came under attack by angry mobs. The EU has called for an inquiry.Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Israeli trade and industry minister, told army radio: "The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities."

The confrontation took place in international waters 80 miles off the Gaza coast.

The Israeli MFA issued a statement this morning: "All of the injured, Israelis and foreigners are currently being evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in Israel.

...Israeli Naval commander, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom is overseeing the events.

In the coming hours, the ships will be directed to the Ashdod port, while IDF naval forces will perform security checks in order to identify the people on board the ships and their equipment.

This IDF naval operation was carried out under orders from the political leadership to halt the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip and breaching the naval blockade.

The interception of the flotilla followed numerous warnings given to the organizers of the flotilla before leaving their ports as well as while sailing towards the Gaza Strip. In these warnings, it was made clear to the organizers that they could dock in the Ashdod sea port and unload the equipment they are carrying in order to deliver it to the Gaza Strip in an orderly manner, following the appropriate security checks. Upon expressing their unwillingness to cooperate and arrive at the port, it was decided to board the ships and lead them to Ashdod.

IDF naval personnel encountered severe violence, including use of weaponry prepared in advance in order to attack and to harm them.

The forces operated in adherence with operational commands and took all necessary actions in order to avoid violence, but to no avail."

Last updated: 5:13pm, December 21 2010