Turkey holds activists’ funerals


Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal reports from
Istanbul after being released by Israel following convoy raid

Turkish forensic experts have confirmed that the
nine activists killed during the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid flotilla
were shot with guns.

Eight were Turks and one a US national of Turkish origin, the
Anatolia news agency reported on Thursday as funerals got under way in
Istanbul.



The remaining activists, including some who were
injured in the Israeli raid, landed in the Turkish city early on
Thursday.

Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, who reported from the ship as the raid
began, was also sent to Turkey by Israel after being released by the
Israelis.

Elshayyal said that he witnessed some of the
killings, and confirmed that at least “one person was shot through the
top of the head from [the helicopter] above”.

IN DEPTH

Our producer was on the top deck when the ship was attacked and said
that within a few minutes of seeing the Israeli helicopters, there were
shots being fired from above.

“The first shots [coming from Israeli boats at sea] were tear gas,
sounds grenades and rubber coated steel bullets,” Elshayyal said.

“Live
shots came five minutes after that. There was definetly live fire from
the air and from the sea as well.”

He confirmed that some passengers took apart some of the ship’s
railing bars to defend themselves as they saw the Israeli soldiers
approaching.

“After the shooting and the first deaths, people put up white flags
and signs in English and Hebrew,” he said.

“An Israeli [on the ship] asked the soldiers to take away the
injured, but they did not, and the injured died on the ship.”

Heroes welcome

Earlier three air ambulances landed at a military base in Ankara, the
Turkish capital, carrying wounded activists who were transferred to
hospitals in the city.

Activists
killed

  Turkish victims
  Ibrahim Bilgen
  Ali Haydar Bengi
  Cevdet Kiliçlar
  Çetin Topçuoglu
  Necdet Yildirim
  Fahri Yaldiz
  Cengiz Songür
  Cengiz Akyüz
  US victim
  Furkan Dogan

Hundreds of supporters including Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime
minister, and several other Turkish politicians were at the airport in
Istanbul to welcome the returning activists.

“They faced barbarism and oppression but returned with pride,” Arinc
told hundreds of jubilant relatives and supporters outside the airport,
chanting “God is Great!”

A crowd of several thousand gathered in central Istanbul to celebrate
the activists’ return.

An aircraft carrying 31 Greek activists, together with three French
nationals and an American, flew into Athens airport in the early hours
of Thursday, the Israeli foreign ministry said.

Seven activists wounded in Monday’s clashes were still being treated
in an Israeli hospital, it said.

Three others – an Irishman and two women from Australia and Italy
– remained in Israel “for technical reasons”, the ministry said.

But Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Jerusalem, said
that four Palestinian-Israelis remain in prison.

Our correspondent said that Raed
Salah,
a leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was one of those
still being held.

Israel defiant

Israel has remained defiant about the raid and says it is ready to
intercept another aid ship, the Rachel Corrie, that organisers
of the Freedom Flotilla say is due to head for the Gaza Strip next week.

IN DEPTH

 

  Blog: Israel defending the indefensible
  Twitter: Sherine Tadros
  Pictures: Protests around the world
  Previous
activists killed by Israel
  Focus: On board the Freedom Flotilla
  Focus: Gaza’s
real humanitarian crisis
  Video: Israel’s Gaza PR offensive
  Programmes: Born in Gaza

Accusing international critics of “hypocrisy,” Binyamin Netanyahu,
the Israeli prime minister, defended the seizure of the aid ships on
Wednesday.

“This was not the Love Boat,” he said in a televised address to the
nation, referring to the vessel boarded by commandos. “It was a hate
boat.”

“These weren’t pacifists, these weren’t peace activists, they were
violent supporters of terrorism.”

Netanyahu said the aim of the flotilla was to break the blockade of
Gaza, not to bring aid.

He said that if the blockade ended, ships would bring in thousands of
missiles from Iran to be aimed at Israel and beyond, creating what he
said would be an Iranian port on the Mediterranean.

“The same countries that are criticising us today should know that
they would be targeted tomorrow,” Netanyahu said.

However, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said the flotilla
tragedy only highlights the serious underlying problem – namely, the
siege imposed on the Gaza.

He said that the siege was “counter-productive, unsustainable and
wrong”.

“It punishes innocent civilians,” he said.

Ban said the siege should be lifted immediately.

No mention of inquiry

Netanyahu’s comments came hours after Turkey warned it would cut off
diplomatic ties with Israel if its citizens killed and injured in the
Gaza flotilla raid were not returned by Wednesday night.

Mohyeldin said the Israeli prime minister’s address did not include
mention of an inquiry into the attack, as many have demanded.

“If the international community, or the Turkish government, were
waiting to hear Binyamin Netanyahu announce an independent investigation
to look into this deadly raid, it certainly did not come as expected,
or as the international community and the UN Security Council had
demanded,” Mohyeldin said.

Thousands of
protesters welcomed the activists’ return to Turkey [Reuters]

“Instead the Israeli prime minister once again defended the Israeli
course of action.”

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has called for an
international commission into the raid.

“We have clearly stated that we would review our ties with Israel if
all Turks not released by the end of the day,” he said on Wednesday.

Davutoglu also said Turkey was ready to normalise ties with Israel if
it lifted its blockade on Gaza, saying “it was time calm replaces
anger”.

Relations between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated rapidly since
the deadly raid, with most of the bloodshed occurring on the Mavi
Marmara
, a Turkish-flagged ship carrying hundreds of
pro-Palestinian activists.

State media reported on Wednesday that Turkey’s justice ministry is
considering legal action against Israel.

Officials are looking into both domestic and international law to see
what action might be undertaken after Monday’s operation in
international waters, a report by the Anatolia news agency said.

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