'The Ship Turned Into a Lake of Blood,' Says Activist on Gaza Flotilla

Six Greeks and several others, including a Turkish woman and her 1-year-old baby, were released on Tuesday.

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Pro-Palestinian activists returning to Europe said Israeli commandos used stun guns on passengers and beat them during the deadly raid on an aid flotilla that was trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. One woman said her aid ship turned into a l"ake of blood."

Five Germans, six Greeks and several others - among them a Turkish woman and
her 1-year-old baby - were released Tuesday, but Israel barred access to hundreds of other activists seized during the raid Monday that killed at least nine people and wounded dozens.

Israel sent commandos onto six ships carrying nearly 700 activists, and there have been conflicting accounts of what happened during the assault. Both sides claim to have been attacked by the other and so far it is not possible to reconcile those claims. Most of those killed were aboard the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara.

Nilufer Cetin holds her son Turker Kaan Cetin as she makes statements to the media after their arrival from Israel to Istanbul airport on Tuesday, June 1, 2010. Credit: AP

The activists - which included Turks, Israelis, Palestinians, European politicians, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and Swedish author - were processed in and around Israel's port of Ashdod, where the six ships of the blockade-running convoy had been escorted.

The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that 50 activists had been taken to Ben-Gurion Airport for voluntary repatriation. Around 629 had refused, and would be jailed while Israel weighed legal options.

46 civilians, mostly Turkish citizens, are still hospitalized in various medical centers throughout Israel, nine of them in serious condition. Six IDF soldiers, including two officers, are also hospitalized in light to serious condition.

The Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara docked at the Ashdod port on Monday evening, the last of the six-ship flotilla to be towed into the port, nearly 16 hours after it was stormed by Israel Navy commandos in what turned into a deadly raid. Its 600 passengers were kept on board while Israel Police sappers conducted a thorough examination of the vessel.

Nine activists aboard the ship were killed and several more wounded in the clashes that erupted with Israel Navy troops at 4 A.M. on Monday. Eight of the Israeli soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously.

The other ships were towed to port over the course of the afternoon, with dozens of the activists detained for refusing to sign Israel's deportation orders. Only some 25 of the activists agreed to the order.

Activists returning to Europe said that the commandos had beaten passengers and used electric shocks during the clashes.

Six Greeks and several others, including a Turkish woman and her 1-year-old baby, were released Tuesday.

Turkish activist Nilufer Cetin, who had hidden with her baby in her cabin's bathroom aboard the Mavi Marmara, told reporters she believed there were 11 dead.

The ship turned into a lake of blood," Cetin told reporters in Istanbul, having returned after Israeli officials warned that jail would be too harsh for her child.

"We were aware of the possible danger in joining the trip," she said. "But there are thousands of babies in Gaza. If we had reached Gaza we would have played with them and taken them food."

She said Israeli vessels harassed the flotilla for two hours starting around 10 p.m. Sunday, and returned at around 4 a.m. Monday, fired warning shots and told the ships to turn back.

When the Mavi Marmara continued on its course the harassment turned into an attack.

"They used smoke bombs followed by gas canisters. They started to descend onto the ship with helicopters," she said, calling the clashes that then erupted "extremely bad and brutal."

"I was one of the first victims to be released because I had a child," she told reporters, "but they confiscated everything, our telephones, laptops are all gone."

Her husband - the ship's engineer - was still being held by Israeli authorities.

Some 400 Turkish activists were on the six-ship flotilla, along with more than 30 Greeks and people of some 20 other nations including Germany, the U.S. and Russia.

The ships had been trying to break the three-year blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid, the activists said.

"Suddenly from everywhere we saw inflatables coming at us, and within seconds fully equipped commandos came up on the boat," said Greek activist Dimitris Gielalis, who had been aboard the Sfendoni. He was among six Greeks returned home Tuesday.

"They came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used," he said.

He said the boat's captain was beaten for refusing to leave the wheel, and had sustained non-life-threatening injuries, while a cameraman filming the raid was hit with a rifle butt in the eye, he said.

"Of course we weren't prepared for a situation of war.," he added.

The returning Greeks said those still in custody were refusing to sign papers demanded by Israeli authorities.

"During their interrogation, many of them were badly beaten in front of us," said Aris Papadokostopoulos, who was aboard the Free Mediterranean traveling behind the Turkish ship and carrying mainly Greek and Swedish activists.

Papadokostopoulos said the flotilla was about 80 miles (130 kilometers) off Gaza when the raid occurred around 4 a.m. Monday.

"The Turkish ship was in front of us ... on which there was a terrible raid from the air and from the sea and from everywhere, with shooting," he said.

Aboard the other boats, he said, commandos beat activists, but nobody was gravely injured. He said no one put up resistance on the Free Mediterranean, which was carrying a cargo of wheelchairs, building material and medical and pharmaceutical aid.

Some people were hit by clubs and electric shocks, he said.

Crew member Mihalis Grigoropoulos said he was on the bridge of the Free Mediterranean and heard shooting coming from the Turkish ship.

"Several people who tried to stop the Israeli forces from getting to the bridge were hit by electric shocks and plastic bullets," he said. We didn't resist at all. Even if we had wanted to, what could we do?"

Civil engineer Thanassis Petrogiannis said he had joined the flotilla to provide help in rebuilding destroyed Palestinian homes.

He said that, while in Israeli custody, authorities had demanded he sign a paper written in Hebrew. He refused, and was eventually given another document that he signed.

"Everyone who didn't accept to sign is in jail," he said.

Grigoropoulos, the crew member, and Gielalis said they were not asked to sign anything, though their cell phones, cameras and clothes were confiscated before they were expelled.

While the six Greeks are in good health, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said Greece was demanding the others still in custody be repatriated as soon as possible.

"Israel bears responsibility for their safety. So it must contribute so they can return quickly to Greece," he said.

Turkey said it was sending three ambulance planes to Israel to pick up 20 more Turkish activists injured in the operation.

Three Turkish Airlines planes were on standby waiting to fly back other activists, the prime minister's office said.



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