Gaza flotilla attack: Australian injured

Gaza flotilla attack: Australian injured


One Australian has been wounded during a deadly commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers storm the Mavi Marmara.

Israeli soldiers storm the Mavi Marmara.

One Australian has been wounded during a deadly commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Israel is facing an international storm of protest after it launched the deadly commando raid on a flotilla of six protest ships that had been trying to get aid supplies through to the besieged Gaza strip.

Up to 19 people were killed and dozens were injured after Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, the largest vessel in the convoy, in international waters before sunrise yesterday.

Australian foreign Minister Stephen Smith said this morning that at least one Australian was wounded in the attack in which at least nine people died.

Fairfax journalists Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty were also on board but were not hurt and are being detained in an Israeli detention centre.

Mr Smith said one Australian was shot in the leg during the attack and was being treated in an Israeli hospital. He did not identify the person.

"We don’t have any information that any other Australians have been caught up either injured or killed at this stage," he told ABC Radio.

The deadly confrontation plunged Israel into a diplomatic crisis, and prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon a scheduled visit to the White House tomorrow and fly home.

As details of the incident began to emerge, governments across Europe summoned Israeli ambassadors, and world leaders expressed dismay.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to explain itself. ''It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,'' he said.

Middle East peace envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair expressed ''deep regret and shock'' and urged a full investigation.

The incident also raised fears of a Palestinian uprising within Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel immediately defended its actions, saying the protesters had defied warnings to turn their ships around and that Israeli commandos came under attack after they boarded the first vessel.

In addition to about 700 protesters, the flotilla was carrying tonnes of construction materials and other items that Israel bars from the Gaza Strip - the Palestinian enclave controlled by Islamic resistance movement Hamas - under a blockade.

Among those injured in the incident was Sheikh Raed Salah, the popular head of the Israel Islamic Association's northern branch, who was undergoing emergency surgery last night at a hospital near Tel Aviv.

Responding to reports that up to nine of those killed in the raid were Turkish, the Turkish government said it would call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, and declared the incident may lead to ''irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations''. In Istanbul, demonstrators mobbed the Israeli consulate.

The Israeli army released footage of the resistance put up by pro-Palestinian activists as commandos stormed the aid ship.

Video images showed troops rappelling down to the deck of one of the vessels in the aid flotilla and coming under repeated attack by a group of people waving poles and chairs.

As a black-clad figure climbs down a rope from a chopper, someone on deck lobs a projectile at him and a group of baton-wielding passengers converge on him as he drops to the ground in chaotic scenes in which it appears that the passengers had the upper hand.

In the black-and-white footage, which appears to have been shot from a nearby vessel, at least six passengers can be seen on the deck of the vessel, repeatedly raising their sticks and forcefully hitting something or someone out of shot on the ground.

As the scenes of violence unfold, soldiers watching the operation from the nearby ship can be heard speaking in Hebrew. ‘‘They’re really beating them badly,’’ one says.

Among the crowd of at least 20 or so passengers milling around on the deck, at least two can be seen pushing one of the Israeli commandos over the railing onto a lower deck, pulling some kind of kit off his back as he falls.

‘‘Wow, they’ve thrown a fighter over the edge,’’ another voice says. ‘‘They’ve just shoved him over.’’

Another demonstrator can be seen waving a white chair over his head in the melee, which also shows one commando pointing what appears to be a paint-ball gun at the passengers.

In Washington, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the US ''deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained'' in the incident. He said administration officials were ''working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy''.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas labelled the incident a ''massacre'' and called for an urgent meeting for the Arab League.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa condemned the attack as a ''crime'' against innocent activists. ''We condemn this crime, taken against a humanitarian mission and people.

''They were trying to help people. They were not on a military mission.''

Netanyahu abandons White House meeting

Israel blamed those on board the flotilla for the fatalities, accusing the protesters of attacking the commandos with ''deadly violence''.

Mr Netanyahu also expressed ''full backing'' for the raid, said his office in a statement in Ottawa, where he was meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Early today, Mr Netanyahu's office confirmed he had called off a planned meeting tomorrow with US President Barack Obama and was rushing home to deal with the crisis. In an earlier statement, the Israel Defence Forces said the protesters were armed and fired on the commandos, who then returned fire in self-defence.

The IDF said two pistols that were seized from Israeli commandos were found after an initial search of the vessels. ''Our initial findings show that at least 10 convoy participants were killed,'' an IDF spokesman said.

''Navy fighters took control of six ships that tried to violate the naval blockade [of the Gaza Strip] … during the takeover, the soldiers encountered serious physical violence by the protesters, who attacked them with live fire.'' The IDF said its rules of engagement allowed troops to open fire in a ''life-threatening situation''.

Several hours before the commandos boarded the flotilla, the IDF warned the ships via radio to turn around. ''If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade,'' the radio message said.

Fairfax journalists safe and well

Mark Regev, the foreign media spokesman for Mr Netanyahu, said: ''The people on the boats were directly responsible for the violence. The commandos were attacked with deadly violence.''

Mr Regev said Israeli security forces had been instructed to use ''maximum restraint'' and only responded when fired on. ''These were not a bunch of human rights activists, these were not humanitarian workers, these were people with a distinct, radical Islamist agenda,'' he said. ''That's why they initiated this violence.''

An IDF spokeswoman said the protesters had tried to ''lynch'' the commandos and that they acted in self-defence.

The Israeli military censor later ordered a ban on all information regarding those injured or killed. Journalists and activists travelling in the flotilla were unable to make telephone or internet contact after Israeli forces began their raid.

Fairfax journalist Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty, who were travelling with the protest flotilla, were taken to shore to a detention centre, registered and given the option to fly home, an Israeli spokesman said. Contact with the two was lost for some hours yesterday, sparking fears for their welfare.

The boats were last night being steered to the Israeli port at Ashdod, around 15 kilometres north of the Gaza Strip.

Upon arrival, those with injuries were to be treated at the Barzilai Hospital.

Israeli authorities were expected to deport anyone who did not require medical attention.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was in transit last night and not immediately available for comment. A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said: ''We are deeply saddened by loss of life following the incident between the Israeli navy and a flotilla of vessels carrying aid and protesters attempting to make its way to Gaza from Cyprus.''

Greens leader Bob Brown described the raid as ''shocking''. Coalition foreign spokeswoman Julie Bishop said reports of fatalities were ''deeply disturbing''.



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