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Israel attacked ships "without warning," freed activists say

AMMAN (Reuters) - Israeli naval commandos used batons, tear gas, stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition during the storming of aid ships bound for Gaza, activists deported by Israel to Jordan said on Wednesday.

Activists, seized during a raid on an aid convoy sailing to Gaza, are hugged by relatives following their arrival in Jordan, after crossing the Allenby Bridge crossing point between Israel and Jordan, June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

“The Israelis just attacked us without warning after dawn prayer,” said Norazma Abdullah, a Malaysian who was among 124 activists who crossed into Jordan at about 7.30 a.m. (0430 GMT).

“They fired with some rubber bullets but after some time they used live ammunition. Five were dead on the spot and after that we surrendered,” said Abdullah, who was on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara where most of the violence took place.

Abdullah, speaking to Reuters near a Jordan river bridge, said the Israeli commandos had then kept the activists tied up for 15 hours until they reached the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Nine people were killed during Monday’s raid on a six-ship convoy trying to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million Palestinians are under an Israeli blockade.

Israel says activists attacked its commandos as they came aboard the Turkish vessel, forcing them to shoot in self-defense after activists clubbed and stabbed them and snatched some of their weapons.

Abdullah said the Turkish-backed flotilla had been more than 68 miles off the Gaza coast when it was intercepted.

“Our original plan was to stop there and ask for Israeli permission before we entered and, if they refused, to stay at sea in protest ... but they attacked us before we had a chance to do that,” Abdullah added.

The activists expelled to Jordan included nationals from Kuwait, Algeria, Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia. They were among 682 detained during the Israeli operation.

Abdul Rahman Failakawee, a Kuwaiti, said the Israelis had used an array of weaponry to subdue those on board the convoy.

“The attack was totally barbaric,” he said by telephone from a bus taking the freed activists to Amman. “They used legitimate and maybe illegitimate weapons: rubber bullets, live ammunition, sound bombs and tear gas bombs. They also used batons as they landed to beat those on board to control the ship.”

Archbishop Hilarian Capucci, a Greek Catholic prelate from Jerusalem who was imprisoned by Israel in 1974 and later deported, said the maritime attack was unwarranted.

“Our trip to Gaza was a trip of love and God was with us. Israel by its actions had rightly drawn world outrage over its brutality against unarmed people carrying a message of love to an innocent occupied people under siege,” Capucci said.

Editing by Alistair Lyon and Samia Nakhoul