|Israel’s military chief said commandos that raided an activist ship fired live ammunition in self-defence [AFP]|
Israeli navy commandos fired 308 bullets in the course of the raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31, the country’s military chief has told a committee set up by Israel to investigate the deadly attack that killed nine activists, including eight Turks.
Testifying for the second time before the Turkel Committee on Sunday, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi said the live rounds shot were in addition to the 350 beanbag [type of shotgun shell] rounds and paintballs fired by the commandos as they stormed Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the convoy seeking to break Israel’s siege of the Palestinian territory.
A top aide to Ashkenazi told the Reuters news agency that 70 of the live rounds were fired at the activists, while the rest were warning shots.
Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said Ashkenazi “spent most of the morning defending and justifying the actions of his soldiers on board the Mavi [Marmara]”.
He told the committee that if Israeli troops had not opened fire, “there would have been more casualties”.
Ashkenazi said the activists took three Glock handguns and one Uzi machine pistol from the commandos. He said that one activist charged the Israeli soldiers, firing an Uzi.
Bulent Yildirim, the chairman of the Turkish organisation that set up the flotilla, has admitted that activists rushed some of the soldiers and stole their weapons but said they threw them overboard without using them.
Seven soldiers were injured; two commandos were shot, and one of them also suffered stab wounds to the hand and stomach.
Tadros quoted the army chief as saying Israeli troops acted proportionately, given the threat.
“They [soldiers] didn’t hurt those who didn’t need to be hurt,” she quoted Ashkenazi as saying. “He also was talking about the fact that the soldiers – as he sees it and as he commanded – didn’t open fire immediately when they landed on deck.”
But our correspondent said Ashkenazi’s testimony contradicted “hundreds of testimonies from journalists and activists” who were on board the Mavi Marmara when the attack happened.
Ashkenazi has previously defended his troops’ use of lethal fire and Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has said the raid on the flotilla complied with international law.
Ashkenazi said the second soldier to land opened fire after being shot in the stomach.
“He simply pulled out his gun and shot the shooter,” Ashkenazi said.
The United Nations has established a separate probe into the raid with Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand, and Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s former president, to chair it. The panel, with which Israel has promised to co-operate, also includes one Israeli and one Turk.
A United Nations fact-finding mission said in September that six of the nine people killed by Israeli forces during the raid had been “summarily executed,” two after they had already been severely injured and were incapable of defending themselves.
The raid sparked global outrage and soured ties between Israel and Turkey.
Turkey’s government has called on Israel to give compensation to the families of the dead and make an official apology for the raid.