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‘Gaza heroes’ welcomed home

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‘Gaza heroes’ welcomed home

Published Date: June 03, 2010
By Abdullah Al-Qattan and agencies


KUWAIT: Eighteen Kuwaiti activists detained by Israel after a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla returned home yesterday, accusing Israeli troops of having opened fire without warning. The activists, including Islamist MP Waleed Al-Tabtabaei and six women, were flown home aboard a government plane from Jordan after crossing by bus from Israel early yesterday, following hours of delay.

Tabtabaei, who was on the main vessel, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, told Kuwait Times that Israeli commandos fired live ammunition from the air killing two unarmed Turkish men instantly. This, he said, led to a firm unarmed stand by the civilians on the boats against fully armed soldiers that did not show any mercy.

“The resistance of the hostile takeover led to holding three Israeli soldiers captive that were freed later on when the flotilla surrendered,”

“We were assaulted, beaten and tied up for hours”.

Tabtabaei said the attack came in early hours of the morning,

“when we were getting ready for morning prayers without any warning of any kind. Later, we were forced to be interrogated but we refused to answer any questions.” Calling the Israelis “high seas pirates”,

Tabtabaei said he refused to answer any questions directed at him aboard the ship.

Israeli commandos started shooting from the air without warning,” lawyer Mubarak Al-Mutawa, who was also on the Mavi Marmara, told reporters. “They killed a number of volunteers even before landing aboard the ship,” he said. Young activist Ali Buhamd claimed he saw an

“Israeli soldier shooting and killing a wounded Turk in the head”

and that

“soldiers left another wounded Turk to bleed to death despite repeated appeals for help.”

Israel has blamed activists on board the Mavi Marmara for Monday’s confrontation in international waters, saying its troops were attacked as they boarded the ship and that nine passengers were killed in the fighting.

“I assure you that no one from the aid volunteers had any firearms. We had no other weapons, except kitchenware, and the volunteers did not start any resistance,”

Mutawa said.

Another Kuwaiti activist compared their subsequent detention by Israeli authorities to Guantanamo, the controversial US detention centre for terrorism suspects in Cuba.

“We experienced the Zionist crimes in the true meaning of the word. We lived two days as if we were in Guantanamo,”

Abdulrahman Al-Kharraz said.

Women activists Sundus Al-Abduljader and Senan Al-Ahmad said they were handcuffed, mistreated by Israelis and forced to go to the bathroom while still in handcuffs.

“They kept us confined inside the ship for 24 hours, handcuffed and with a number of the dead bodies with us. Five of the group were made to stay on top of the ship under the sun for hours,”

Tabtabaei said he was kicked by soldiers, who prevented him going to the toilet for 24 hours, while Mutawa, in his 60s, said his left hand was almost paralysed because of the tight cuffs. “With God’s will, we will not rest until Gaza and all of Palestine is free from the Zionist death grip” Mutawa added. The 18 men and women, some of whom looked exhausted, were received by Prime Minister HH Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, senior officials and a large number of relatives, carrying Kuwaiti and Turk
ish flags.

The Kuwaitis arrived home on an Amiri plane sent by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah at 10:45 am at the ministerial protocol hall where they were welcomed by National Assembly Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi at the moment and their families who preferred waiting in the hot sun rather than inside the hall. Tears of joy and cries of “Allah is Greatest” greeted the landing plane as families ran over rope barriers to hug their imprisoned relatives and welcome them back home while holding Kuwaiti and Turkish flags.

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.”

Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reporter Muna Shashter, who was one of the women detainees, called on all Arabs and all Muslims to take similar actions, urging them to be a part of freeing Gaza and stopping all the inhumane actions against fellow Arabs and Muslims by the Israeli forces. Shashter added that one day in detention by the Israeli forces is more than enough to show how much the people of Palestine are suffering and how brutal and cruel their treatment of Palestinians is.

Shashter described the Israelis as

“terrorists, liars, and brutal animals” that don’t consider others who are not Israelis humans. Shashter said the attack on the aid flotilla took place in international waters with three boats and a helicopter ordering the captains to turn back, all of whom refused and continued ahead. “After that, each boat was surrounded by vessels and a helicopter deployed men in black, armed from head to toe, who asked no questions and killed two Turkish men immediately,”

She said things got worse when they were forced to stand for five hours under the sun with their hands tied without allowing them to make any phone calls. Shashter thanked the people of Kuwait for their support along with officials who helped them get back home safely by starting a major campaign, while thanking people around the world who stood against the Israeli actions and their vicious acts.

Four Bahraini activists from the aid flotilla were also arrived home yesterday. Sheikh Jalal Al-Sharqi, a Bahraini who was on the Mavi Marmara, said in a telephone call from Amman that activists were

“not allowed to go to the bathroom, nor to pray”.

Other activists expelled to Jordan early yesterday accused Israeli commandos who carried out the raid of killing passengers cold-bloodedly. “What happened was unbelievable. The way the criminal Israeli soldiers beat us and killed Turkish activists in cold blood was like a bloody movie. They could have arrested them,” Morrocan MP Abdelqader Amara, 47, told AFP in a hotel in Amman.

“The Israelis used live ammunition and showed us all the barbarism and cruelty in the world although all of us were unarmed. The Israelis beat some of them up with the butts of their rifles before they shot them dead.”

The Jewish state early Wednesday deported to Jordan 126 people it held after Monday’s raid, among them 30 Jordanians as well as nationals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Syria, Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Mauritania, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Azerbaijan. Turkish nationals made up the bulk of the more than 600 passengers on the fleet, and four were killed in the attack, diplomats in Ankara have said, dragging Israel’s relations with Turkey to a new low.

Amara said the attempt by the “Peace Flotilla” to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip had served to highlight the “crimes” of the Jewish state. “What we did has exposed the Zionist entity to the world because its crimes took place in international waters. They did not warn us at all before storming the ship. It was a nightmare,” said Amara. He added that he and seven other Moroccans were to head home later yetserday. “We were beaten, humiliated, insulted and stripped of our clothes.

“An Algerian MP nearly lost his eyes after the Israelis beat him,”

said another passenger, Salha Nuweisreyh, 51, of Algeria.

Najwa Sultan, 48, also from Algeria, said Israel

“treated the activists as if they were terrorists”. “We were deprived of basic rights. They handcuffed us after the raid and kept us waiting under the sun for many hours. It was inhuman,”

“I think we have achieved our goal and broke the blockade despite all what happened. Israel has gone mad and it will not continue to exist forever.” Around 28 Algerian nationals are expected to head home today.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday instructed his government to facilitate the transfer to the kingdom of those wounded in the attack “and provide them with necessary treatment and care before sending them to their countries”. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. The Israeli operation has sparked global outrage, with many countries calling for international probe, and on Wednesday Nicaragua became the first country to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel over the incident.

Greece said several of its citizens were badly treated, reports emerged of an Australian journalist being Tasered and volunteers described Israeli “crimes”. Top Swedish author Henning Mankell – who was on board the fleet of six boats towed to Israel after the offensive on Monday that left nine people dead and dozens injured – accused the Jewish state of “brutality”.

“What will happen next year when we come back with hundreds of boats? Will they fire a nuclear bomb?”

the author of the Wallander crime series
said when he returned to Gothenburg airport on Tuesday night.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald said its photographer Kate Geraghty may have been hit with a stun gun by Israeli forces during the raid. On its website, the newspaper said Geraghty had told Australian Consular officials on Tuesday she had been hit in the upper arm with what she believed to be a Taser and had subsequently suffered a minor burn and felt nauseous. The photographer and Herald journalist Paul McGeough have been in Israeli detention since Monday.

“I did not see her being Tasered, but when we were all finally gathered into a room and they had subdued all of us and taken over the boat she did show us her wound on her arm and she said that she wasn’t feeling well and that she was hurt,”

said Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf, who was on the same boat.

The Israelis just attacked us without warning after dawn prayer,” said Norazma Abdullah, a Malaysian who crossed into Jordan.

“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 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.

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,”

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. – Agencies

Source.

3 Aid Flotilla Activists Missing, Says Turkish Charity Head Bulent Yildirim

Thursday, June 3, 2010 ISTANBUL –

Funeral prayers are held in Istanbul for eight of the nine people killed on a Gaza aid flotilla as families around the country mourn their dead. At least three activists are still missing, the group that organized the flotilla says, vowing to send larger convoys to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

At least three members of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli commandos are still missing, the group that organized the convoy said Thursday as funeral prayers were given for eight slain activists.

“We have a longer list. There are still people who are missing,” Bülent Yıldırım, the head of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, one of the main organizers of the flotilla, told reporters at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport.

“Our doctors handed over to Israel 38 people who were injured, but they told us there were only 21 injured when we were returning.”

The İHH leader also said the group would send larger convoys to end the embargo on the besieged Gaza Strip.

Yıldırım and hundreds of other activists returned early Thursday to a hero’s welcome in Istanbul. About 1,000 people, some chanting anti-Israeli slogans, packed the city’s airport in the middle of the night to greet the planes carrying them back from Israel.

Seven planes were used to deport 527 activists to Turkey and Greece, said Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad, adding that seven other activists remained in Israeli hospitals for treatment of wounds suffered during the Israeli raid. Another plane brought 31 Greeks, three French nationals and one American to Athens.

The first plane contained the bodies of eight Turks and a U.S. national of Turkish origin. All were shot dead in the Israeli raid, according to forensic experts. The nationalities of the victims were determined after post-mortem examinations at a forensic institute in Istanbul, the Anatolia news agency reported. Forensic experts found bullet marks on all the bodies and determined that one was shot at close range.

The exact circumstances of the activists’ deaths are expected to become clear in a ballistics examination that will take about a month to complete.

The 19 wounded activists deported from Israel also suffered from gunshot wounds, according to the chief doctor of the Ankara hospital treating them. “The patients generally have serious injuries to their chests, abdomens and limbs. What we have is mostly gun wounds,” Metin Doğan said in televised remarks.

Israel charges that the passengers on the boat attacked its soldiers, but organizers of the flotilla say Israeli forces started firing as soon as they landed on the ship.

Families mourn

Funeral prayers for eight of the nine people killed onboard the Mavi Marmara were held at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul on Thursday. The coffins of Cengiz Akyüz, Ali Haydar Bengi, İbrahim Bilgen, Furkan Doğan, Cengiz Songür, Çetin Topçuoğlu, Fahri Yaldız and Necdet Yıldırım were wrapped in Turkish flags. The crowd at the funeral chanted anti-Israel slogans before and after the prayers. The funeral prayer for journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar, an İHH member, will be held at the same mosque Friday.

Families of the victims also mourned in various provinces of the country. Photographs of Bilgen, who was a mayoral candidate from the Saadet, or Felicity, Party in the March 2009 local elections, were hung over busy streets in the eastern province of Siirt.

In Adana, Cumali Topçuoğlu, the brother of 54-year-old victim Çetin Topçuoğlu, said family members were happy because their brother had become a “martyr.”

In Diyarbakır, a condolence tent was erected in front of the Ulu Mosque for Bengi, the father of four children.

An official from the İHH identified 19-year-old Doğan, originally from the central Turkish town of Kayseri, as the U.S. national among the victims. Doğan, who held an American passport, had four bullet wounds to the head and one to the chest, according to the İHH’s Ömer Yağmur. The bodies were handed over to the victim’s relatives after the autopsies.

The United Nations and the European Union have harshly criticized Israel after its commandos stormed the six-ship flotilla in international waters, setting off the clashes. About 700 activists – including 400 Turks – were trying to break the Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade by bringing in 10,000 tons of aid.

Eyewitness accounts

Two Swedes aboard the aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces this week said they had witnessed “premeditated murder.”

“We were witnesses to premeditated murders,”

historian Mattias Gardell told Swedish public radio Thursday upon arrival in Istanbul.

“This was a military attack on a humanitarian aid operation far out in international waters,” said Gardell, a Swedish activist who was on the Mavi Marmara along with his wife, fellow historian Edda Manga, during the attack. “It was a very surprising and aggressive overreaction by Israel.”

Kuwait citizen Ali Buhamd said he saw a wounded Turkish citizen getting shot in the head. “The soldiers also left another Turk to bleed to death despite [his] calls for help,” he added.

Shane Dillon from Ireland, from the crew of the ship Challenger 1, said he witnessed some volunteers being beaten up and a Belgian woman’s nose being broken.

Of five Australians on the Gaza flotilla, two – journalists Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty, who was injured by a stun gun during the Israeli raid – have returned to Turkey, daily The Australian reported on its website Thursday. Three others – Ahmed Luqman, who was shot in the leg, his wife, Jerry Campbell, and his sister Maryam Luqman – are reportedly still in Israel

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Israeli attack written into history with chilling survivor accounts

06 June 2010, Sunday

SUNDAY’S ZAMAN İSTANBUL

With most survivors back in their home countries, details are continuing to emerge about exactly what happened during the course of a bloody Israeli military attack on a humanitarian aid convoy heading to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The haunting testimonies of the deported activists recount the sheer horror of the attack and its aftermath. Humiliation, maltreatment and brutality meted out by Israeli soldiers dominate the survivors’ accounts.

They all note that they were unarmed but resisted the soldiers in self-defense while the soldiers used live bullets, a claim that has been confirmed by autopsies performed on the nine peace activists killed in the attack and medical examinations of the over 30 who were wounded. Photographs capturing images of even injured passengers with handcuffs on have also emerged, sparking an international outcry. Activists who returned to Turkey after being deported by Israel have confirmed to the press that they were poorly treated by Israeli authorities between the time of their detention and deportation.

The returnees’ accounts also reveal that in order to secure their release, they were forced to sign a deportation document pledging that they would never travel to Israel again. Some said they could not even understand what was written as documents provided to them were in Hebrew.

‘Wounded people were shot’

Peace activist Ali Buhamd said:

“I saw a soldier shooting a wounded Turk in the head. There was another Turk asking for help, but he bled to death.”

Kevin Ovenden of Britain, who arrived in İstanbul on Thursday and was on the Mavi Marmara, said a man who had pointed a camera at the soldiers was shot directly through the forehead, with the exit wound blowing away the back of his skull.

Lawyer Mubarak Al Mutava, who was on the same ship, also shared recollected moments of horror that the passengers of the humanitarian aid ship faced at the hands of their Israeli attackers.

“Israeli commandos opened fire at us. They killed many activists even before they got on board. I should assure you that not a single volunteer possessed any kind of firearm.”

Israeli naval commandos used batons, teargas, 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.

“The Israelis just attacked us without warning after the dawn prayer,”

said Norazma Abdullah, a Malaysian who was among the 124 activists who crossed into Jordan at about 7:30 a.m.

‘Israeli deputy prevented shot at me’

Osman Çalık, another flotilla survivor, said his knee was injured when he was shot by one of the soldiers and that an Israeli parliamentary deputy prevented the soldier from taking a second shot at him.

“While I was lying on the ground after my knee was injured, he was about to shoot a second time. Israeli deputy Hanin Zuabi, one of the volunteers aboard, shouted at the soldier in Hebrew to stop. And he did not shoot at me again,”

‘Soldiers humiliated us’

Algerian Izzeddine Zahrour said Israeli authorities

“deprived us of food, water and sleep, and we weren’t allowed to use the toilet.”

“It was an ugly kidnapping and subsequently [we were subjected to] bad treatment in the Israeli jail,” he said. “They handcuffed us, pushed us around and humiliated us.”

“The Israelis roughed up and humiliated all of us — women, men and children,” said Kuwaiti lawmaker  Walid al-Tabtabaie who was on one of the ships with other activists from Muslim countries.

“They were brutal and arrogant, but our message reached every corner of the world: that the blockade on Gaza is unfair and should be lifted immediately,” he added.

The lawmaker claimed there

“was not a single weapon with the passengers aboard all the ships.”

Recai Kaya, a representative of the Enderun Association, said that Israel forces brutally attacked and handcuffed the peace activists while saying “one minute” to try and humiliate them, a reference to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s walkout in Davos last year. During a panel discussion on Gaza at the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) on Jan. 29, 2009, Erdoğan walked off the stage in protest of a moderator who did not allow him to speak in response to Israeli President Shimon Peres, who made remarks supporting the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

‘We were deprived of water, food’

Mihalis Grigoropoulos told reporters at Athens International Airport that Israelis rappelled down from helicopters and threw ropes from inflatable boats to climb aboard, adding that teargas and live ammunition were used in the raid.

“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 by forming a human shield. They were fired upon with plastic bullets and were stunned with electric devices,”

He also said they were faced with mistreatment after they were arrested.

“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 videos of us despite international conventions banning this,”

Another Greek peace activist, Dimitris Gielalis, who was with the flotilla, said:

“They came up and used plastic bullets. We had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method you can think of, they used.”

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 in the eye with the butt of a rifle.

‘Captivity in Israel just like Guantanamo’

Anne De Jong, a Dutch activist on the Mavi Marmara, said that she felt like she was waking up from a horrible nightmare. Saying that they suffered mistreatment while they were detained, De Jong said, “What we went through while we were jailed brought Guantanamo to our minds,” in remarks to Dutch television channel NOS. She also said Israeli officials attempted to force the prisoners to sign certain documents to be used as evidence against them, noting that she and other activists resisted this.

“People fell to the floor when they started shooting. It is a huge lie that people attacked the soldiers or provoked them.”

She also said the soldiers used force and violence when detaining the activists and that they were not allowed access to lawyers.

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