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CHINGFORD: Flotilla survivor returns home

8:45am Wednesday 9th June 2010

Tauqir Sharif

A SURVIVOR of the Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza has spoken of the “horrific” events he witnessed, as he tries to adjust to life back home in Chingford.

Tauqir Sharif, of Warwick Road, was on board the lead Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara in the Mediterranean sea when it was boarded by troops in an assault which led to the deaths of nine men.

The convoy of boats, carrying medical supplies, food and toys, was trying to break an Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza strip, which has been in force ever since Hamas won elections there in 2007.

The 23-year-old returned home to England at the weekend after being held in an Israeli prison for two days.

He said: “I’m disappointed that the aid never got to Gaza, because that was the sole point of the trip, despite the media attention. It wasn’t about shaming the Israeli Government – they do that for themselves.

“I’m still taking everything in. I’ve learnt so much about myself I can’t even begin to describe it.

“I’ve seen things – I’ve seen dead bodies and very badly injured people. I’m not sure what effect it’s had on me, it’s all still sinking in and I get flashbacks.

“But I do know that it has made me more determined and I want to go back to Gaza as soon as possible. I don’t want to stop there, I want to train as a paramedic and go to places like the Sudan and Haiti.”

Mr Sharif survived the raid with only minor injuries.

“When it began a group of us were on the middle deck praying. Someone shouted ‘they’re coming’ and then they started shooting at us and coming on board.

“During it most people were just trying to hide, but there was resistance. I had a camera and I was trying to film as much as I could. But the Israelis took it along with my laptop and everything else so I’ve lost the footage.

“I was very, very lucky because another guy on the boat who was filming got shot in the head.

“I don’t know how anyone could say that we attacked first. They were the ones carrying guns and they were the ones that were boarding the ship.

“It was horrific. I saw the body of man who had been shot and half his head was hanging off.

“We managed to get some of the injured into a room and then the troops surrounded us and made us come out one by one.”

One of those killed, 60-year-old Ibrahim Bilgen, had become a close friend of Mr Sharif in Turkey as they prepared to set off for Gaza. He was shot four times in the head.

Mr Sharif said: “He was like a grandfather I never had. Before we set off I visited his home and family in Turkey, we went fishing together.

“It was very upsetting.”

He added: “Whatever scratches, cuts and bruises I have it is nothing to what the Palestinian people have to go through on a regular basis.

“While there were nine people killed and it got a lot of attention around the world, Palestinians get shot and killed by the Israeli troops on an almost daily basis and it doesn’t get coverage. Only the other day four were shot dead by a beach.”

Israel has rejected UN calls for an independent investigation into what happened, saying it will carry out a probe itself.

Mohammed Abid Mahi, 31, from Walthamstow, was also on board and has now returned home. He has been reluctant to speak publicly about what he witnessed.

The Guardian understands his pregnant wife went into labour just days after the raid happened.

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