(Reuters) - Israeli marines stormed Turkish-backed aid ships bound for Gaza in a naval operation on Monday that left nine people dead and sparked world outcry.
Israel has detained some 700 activists incommunicado, ensuring no contradiction of its version of events. Israeli officials said the nine activists were killed when commandos storming the cruise ship opened fire in self-defense.
But some Turkish and Greek activists who were on board the ships have returned home. Below are comments describing their experience when Israeli troops descended on the flotilla.
MIHALIS GRIGOROPOULOS (to reporters at Athens airport)
”They (Israelis) came down from helicopters and threw ropes from inflatable boats, climbing aboard. There was teargas and live ammunition.
”I was steering the ship, we saw them capture another ship in front of us, which was the Turkish passenger vessel with more than 500 people on board and heard shots fired.
”We did not resist at all, we couldn’t even if we had wanted to. What could we have done against the commandos who climbed aboard? The only thing some people tried was to delay them from getting to the bridge, forming a human shield. They were fired upon with plastic bullets and were stunned with electric devices.
”There was great mistreatment after our arrest. We were essentially hostages, like animals on the ground.
“They wouldn’t let us use the bathroom, wouldn’t give us food or water and they took video of us despite international conventions banning this.”
ARIS PAPADOKOSTOPOULOS (to reporters at Athens airport)
”We took part in the mission ‘one ship for Gaza’, carrying humanitarian aid ... wheel chairs, pharmaceutical supplies, building materials and nothing else.
”When the assault took place we were 70 nautical miles from the Gaza shores.
”The Turkish passenger ship ahead of us suffered a terrible attack from everywhere, from sea and air, with gunshots.
”Ours was the last ship to be attacked.
“The action of Israeli commandos was pure piracy in international waters. The international community must condemn this and react. We cannot allow Israel to play the role of the policeman in the area.”
NILUFER CETIN (to reporters at Istanbul airport)
”We stayed in our cabin and played games amid the sound of gunfire. My son has been nervous since yesterday afternoon ... I did not need to protect my son. They knew there was a baby on board. I protected him by staying in my cabin, then went to the bathroom. I put a gas mask and life jacket on my son. We did not experience any other problems on board, only a water shortage. We took walks on the deck, played games with my son. The curtains were drawn, so I did not see not the raid as it was happening. I only heard the voices. There are lightly and heavily wounded people.
“There are thousands, millions of babies in Gaza. My son and I wanted to play with those babies. We planned to deliver them aid. We wanted to say ‘Look, it’s a safe place, I came here with my baby-son’. I saw my husband from a distance, he looked OK. The ship personnel was not wounded, because they (the soldiers) needed them to take the ship to port. I will go again if another ship goes.”
BAYRAM KALYON (to reporters at Istanbul airport)
“The captain of the vessel Mavi Marmara told us ‘They are firing randomly, they are breaking the windows and entering inside. So you should get out of here as soon as possible.’ That was our last conversation with him.”
MUTLU TIRYAKI (to reporters at Istanbul airport)
“When we went up to the deck, they emerged from helicopters and military boats and attacked us. They approached our vessel with military ships after issuing a warning. We told them we were unarmed. Our sole weapon was water.”
Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Reuters TV in Istanbul, George Georgiopoulos in Athens