Passengers aboard the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara were the first to open fire in a battle with IDF commandos, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Sunday. Ashkenazi testified for a second time before the Turkel commission, which is investigating the fatal clash aboard the Marmara.
Clear proof that the passengers aboard the Marmara were armed and dangerous can be seen in the fact that the second IDF commando to board the ship was shot, he told members of the commission. The first soldier on board had not been carrying a gun, meaning the bullet could only have come from a gun carried by a passenger.
Ashkenazi defended the soldiers who boarded the Marmara, and said they had used minimal violence. Soldiers even took risks in order to lessen casualties among the passengers, he said. As an example, he said, one soldier who was being strangled took the time to locate a shock grenade to get free.
Passengers grabbed weapons from soldiers, including three handguns and an Uzi submachine gun, Ashkenazi testified. One passenger opened fire on soldiers, who shot him.
Soldiers fired only on those who were involved in the attack on them, he said. The commandos fired a total of just over 300 rounds, most of which were warning shots.
Ashkenazi explained why certain non-lethal methods were not used during the takeover of the Marmara. Shock grenades were dropped from helicopters at one point, but could not be widely used due to the close quarters on the boat, he stated. Rubber bullets were also not used due to the short distances involved.
He warned that he cannot guarantee that no similar incidents will take place in the future. If large ships are headed for Gaza carrying unknown cargo and passengers use force to deter IDF troops who attempt to board, "we do not dismiss the possibility of casualties," he stated.
The Mavi Marmara was part of a larger flotilla of Gaza-bound ships that aimed to break the IDF naval blockade on Hamas. While the ships ostensibly aimed to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, no aid was found aboard the Marmara, and many of the supplies on the other ship were found to be damaged, and in any case, not to constitute humanitarian aid.
Many of the passengers aboard the Marmara were members of the Turkish terrorist group IHH. They were the only ones to attack IDF soldiers; passengers on other flotilla ships did not fight as IDF commandos boarded the boats and turned them towards Ashdod.
In the months following the May clash aboard the Marmara, new attention was drawn to the IHH, and both the EU and America considered banning the group. Some reports linked the group to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.