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Activists recall horror scenes from assault

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AMMAN – Turkish activists who were aboard the aid ship raided Monday by Israeli soldiers had asked all non-Turkish passengers to remain on the lower decks of the boat to protect them from possible Israeli attacks, according to a Moroccan activist who was on the ship.

“They preferred to expose themselves to the Israeli firing so that they could protect other nationalities,” Moroccan activist Hassane Ljabri said yesterday, adding that he and his fellow passengers had not expected any “violent” act from the Israelis, especially since the civilian flotilla was carrying only humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip.

Ljabri made the remarks in an interview with The Jordan Times at Al Hussein Medical Centre in Amman, where he was treated for a slight injury he says he sustained in an Israeli prison after Israeli navy forces took over the flotilla and detained hundreds of activists on board.

According to Freedom Flotilla activists, Turkish volunteers constituted most of the victims of the assault, which killed at least nine.

The 46-year-old Ljabri is one of 126 flotilla participants who crossed the Jordan River into the Kingdom by sunrise Wednesday. Some of them were to receive treatment for injuries sustained during the Israeli attack, as the others were to leave from Amman back to their countries.

The Moroccan said the attack began at around 4:00am when Israeli navy personnel landed from helicopters on the top deck of the ship after failing to get on board from their boats. At the time, Ljabri and other Muslim activists were performing dawn prayers.

“We were kneeling when we heard others screaming,” he said, noting that since midnight, Israeli helicopters and a warship had been following them in international waters, where the attack took place.

“We heard gunshots on the upper deck, and we were targeted with teargas and sound bombs, which we immediately threw into the sea,” the activist added, noting that an Algerian man was then shot in the eye.

The Israelis ordered the passengers to gather in one of the ship’s halls, where Ljabri said he was able to recognise five dead bodies and several injured. “There was blood everywhere.”

“They handcuffed us and pointed their guns towards us,” he said, describing the scene as “horrific… many were weeping and screaming”.

The ship arrived in the Israeli port of Ashdod before midday, Ljabri said, adding that interrogations started after that.

He revealed that the activists were beaten up by the Israelis on board the ship, adding that the soldiers “used to swear at us in Hebrew, make fun of us and laugh”.

Israel has said it was attempting to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gazan shores because it would break its three-year-old siege on the strip, adding that the assault was an act of “self-defence” against the activists.

Ljabri said Israeli officers told him he was “violating Israeli laws and will be sued and deported”.

“This is so strange because from the very beginning I didn’t want to go to Israel, but to visit the Arabs in Gaza,” he noted.

“When we came to Jordan, we were received like heroes… I feel more self-confident now and I believe what we did was right,” he said, stressing that he is willing to take part again in any event that aims to break the Gaza blockade and deliver aid to the impoverished enclave.

Among the Malaysian activists aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, was general practitioner Muhammad Halim.

“When the Israeli commandoes raided the boat and started shooting, I was called to check on some of the injured. I was doing chest compressions on five of those badly shot. Three of them died in front of me. I am so sad about that,” Halim, who is specialised in dealing with emergency cases, told The Jordan Times over the phone.

Halim said he saw one of the activists shot in the head by the Israeli commandos, adding that he tried to save the man who died 15 minutes later.

Coordinator of the Malaysian team of activists Noor Azman, who works as a lecturer at the Islamic University in Malaysia, said he was “shocked” with what he saw during the raid.

“I saw one shot by a live bullet in the wrist. He was Indonesian,” said Azman, who said he is determined to get the aid to the Gaza Strip