Israeli navy clashes with Gaza aid flotilla activists, causing casualties

Clash happened on Monday morning between an international Gaza aid flotilla and Israeli navy, causing several casualties, Israeli military confirmed.

"According to initial reports, these events resulted in over 10 deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injured," Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement.

Four soldiers were also wounded, added IDF, saying that they were attacked by the activists on board. Two of the them are moderately injured and the others sustained light injuries.

"Demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry," said Israeli army spokesman's office, "additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier."

This is strongly rejected by the Gaza aid activists. "There was no fire from our side," the group said in a twitter message, one of the channels it employed to bring attention to the campaign.

"Under darkness of night, Israeli commandoes dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck. They fired directly into the crowd of civilians asleep." The human rights organization Free Gaza Movement onboard described in an E-mail.

All of the injured, including Israeli naval soldiers and peace activists onboard, were currently evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in Israel.

The flotilla are now being directed by Israeli warships to southern Israel's Ashdod port as originally planned.

An earlier Twitter message from the onboard campaigners said that at about 4:30 a.m. Monday, Israeli commandos dropped from helicopter onto deck of a Turkish ship, immediately opened fire on unarmed civilians.

Sources told Xinhua earlier in the morning that seven of the injuries were admitted to Israel's Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The hospital's spokesman David Ratner said that a 20-year-old, moderately hurt man was delivered by a chopper from the sea. Ratner denied that the injured was from the Gaza aid convoy and he was "hit by something" and "not an IDF soldier."

Live image from the flotilla on the Twitter of Free Gaza Movement this morning shows that Israeli soldiers descending from a helicopter and a number of speedboats aboard one of the ships in night hours. Activists wearing life vests were treating what appeared to be injuries for unknown reasons.

Israeli navy on Sunday night sighted the pro-Palestinian " Freedom Flotilla" bound for the Gaza Strip and ordered the convoy to dock at Ashdod harbor, unveiling the showdown between Israel and peace activists.

Troops aboard the aid flotilla clashed with the activists after they ignored Israeli orders to turn back, Turkey's NTV said early Monday.

Three missile boats left Haifa naval base earlier Sunday night, planning to intercept the convoy.

The Gaza aid ships set sail on Sunday from the Mediterranean international waters near Cyprus and headed to the besieged territory amid tension due to Israel's threats to block the convoy.

The six-vessel flotilla, aiming at focusing world attention on the plight of the Gazans, consists of more than 10,000 tons of aid, stationery, medical supplies and construction materials as well as hundreds of peace activists from over 40 countries.

Israel imposes a tight blockade on the coastal enclave since the Islamic Hamas movement forcibly seized the territory in 2007 after routing rival Fatah party which now rules the West Bank.

[Source: Xinhua, Jerusalem, 31May10]

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