'Gaza flotilla activists fired first'

Ashkenazi at his first Turkel Commission appearance in August

Ashkenazi at his first Turkel Commission appearance in August

Each one of the shootings on the Mavi Marmara ferry earlier this year was justified, said the IDF Chief of General Staff this week.

In a combative appearance before the Turkel Commission, the body set up by the Israeli government to investigate the Gaza flotilla operation, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi insisted that the commandos who boarded the ship and killed nine Turkish activists acted in an exemplary fashion.

"They did not open fire immediately and took a great risk upon themselves," said Lt Gen Ashkenazi on Sunday. He described the casualties incurred by the Israeli force and claimed that the first shot was fired by the Turkish passengers.

"The second commando was shot in the stomach," he said, and explained that when the soldier landed, no IDF firearms were yet on deck; therefore he must have been shot by a weapon owned by the passengers.

Some of the passengers on the Marmara have claimed that shots were fired on the boat before the commandos boarded and that the firing was indiscriminate.

Last month though, a Turkish journalist who was on board published a book supporting the IDF version that the firing only began after the commandos were met with violence.

Lt Gen Ashkenazi disputed the Turkish claims that the flotilla was a humanitarian mission. "Peace activists don't know how to fight with gas masks, clubs, knives, axes and metal chains," he said, "they had previous planning and code-words. This proves organisation. They came to harm soldiers."

While praising the soldiers, Lt Gen Ashkenazi admitted to shortcomings in intelligence and planning. "I don't think we understood the extent of the opposition," he said, "but we knew there would be violence." This was Lt Gen Ashkenazi's second appearance before the commission, which plans to summon other IDF officers.

    Last updated: 3:16pm, October 28 2010