ATHENS, Greece: Activists returning to Europe after Israeli forces raided their aid flotilla said Tuesday that the commandos had beaten passengers and used electric shocks during the assault.
Six Greeks and several others, including a Turkish woman and her 1-year-old baby, were released Tuesday, but Israel has barred access to hundreds of others seized during the raid that killed at least nine people and wounded dozens early Monday.
Most of those killed were aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and there have been conflicting accounts of what happened during the assault.
Turkish activist Nilufer Cetin, who had hidden with her baby in her cabin’s bathroom aboard the Mavi Marmara, told reporters she believed there were 11 dead.
"The ship turned into a lake of blood," Cetin told reporters in Istanbul, having returned after Israeli officials warned that jail would be too harsh for her child.
"We were aware of the possible danger" in joining the trip, she said. "But there are thousands of babies in Gaza. If we had reached Gaza we would have played with them and taken them food."
She said Israeli vessels "harassed" the flotilla for two hours starting around 10 p.m. Sunday, and returned at around 4 a.m. Monday, fired warning shots and told the ships to turn back.
"When the Mavi Marmara continued on its course the harassment turned into an attack. They used smoke bombs followed by gas canisters. They started to descend onto the ship with helicopters," she said, calling the clashes that then erupted "extremely bad and brutal."
"I was one of the first victims to be released because I had a child," she told reporters, but "they confiscated everything, our telephones, laptops are all gone." Her husband — the ship’s engineer — was still being held by Israeli authorities.
Some 400 Turkish activists were on the six-ship flotilla, along with more than 30 Greeks and people of some 20 other nations including Germany, the US and Russia.
The ships had been trying to break the three-year blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid, the activists said.
"Suddenly from everywhere we saw inflatables coming at us, and within seconds fully equipped commandos came up on the boat," said Greek activist Dimitris Gielalis, who had been aboard the Sfendoni. He was among six Greeks returned home Tuesday.
"They came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used," he said.
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 with a rifle butt in the eye," he said. "Of course we weren’t prepared for a situation of war."
The returning Greeks said those still in custody were refusing to sign papers demanded by Israeli authorities.
"During their interrogation, many of them were badly beaten in front of us," said Aris Papadokostopoulos, who was aboard the Free Mediterranean traveling behind the Turkish ship and carrying mainly Greek and Swedish activists.
Papadokostopoulos said the flotilla was about 80 miles (130 kilometers) off Gaza when the raid occurred around 4 a.m. Monday.
"The Turkish ship was in front of us … on which there was a terrible raid from the air and from the sea and from everywhere, with shooting," he said.
Aboard the other boats, he said, commandos beat activists, but nobody was gravely injured. He said no one put up resistance on the Free Mediterranean, which was carrying a cargo of wheelchairs, building material and medical and pharmaceutical aid.
"Some people were hit by clubs and electric shocks," he said.
Crew member Mihalis Grigoropoulos said he was on the bridge of the Free Mediterranean and heard shooting coming from the Turkish ship.
Several people who tried to stop the Israeli forces from getting to the bridge were hit by electric shocks and plastic bullets, he said. "We didn’t’ resist at all. Even if we had wanted to, what could we do?"
Civil engineer Thanassis Petrogiannis said he had joined the flotilla to provide help in rebuilding destroyed Palestinian homes.
He said that, while in Israeli custody, authorities had demanded he sign a paper written in Hebrew. He refused, and was eventually given another document that he signed.
"Everyone who didn’t accept to sign is in jail," he said.
Grigoropoulos, the crew member, and Gielalis said they were not asked to sign anything, though their cell phones, cameras and clothes were confiscated before they were expelled.
While the six Greeks "are in good health," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said Greece was demanding the others still in custody be repatriated as soon as possible.
"Israel bears responsibility for their safety. So it must contribute so they can return quickly to Greece," he said.
Turkey said it was sending three ambulance planes to Israel to pick up 20 more Turkish activists injured in the operation.
Three Turkish Airlines planes were on standby waiting to fly back other activists, the prime minister’s office said.
visibly shaken Germans who experienced at first hand a deadly raid by the Israeli military on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza denied on Tuesday that anyone on board was armed.
"The Israeli government justifies the raid because they were attacked. This is absolutely not the case," former member of parliament Norman Paech, 72, wrapped in a blue blanket, told reporters in Berlin.
"This was not an act of self-defense."
His comments were backed up by two others on board the convoy when it was raided at dawn on Monday in international waters, MPs Inge Hoeger, 59, and Annette Groth, 56.
"We felt like we were in a war, like we were being kidnapped," Hoeger said.
"We wanted to bring aid to Gaza. Nobody had a weapon."