Passengers Recount Mid-Sea Horror
01 June, 2010
Israel has started releasing some of the 700 activists it captured after it troops stormed a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
Turkey has sent three planes, including two military ambulance aircraft, to bring its nationals home.
Six Greek passengers returned to Athens after being expelled from Israel, and a former US ambassador who was also on the ship was on a flight home.
Here are excerpts of what some of the freed passengers had to say:
Issam Zaatar, Al Jazeera cameraman
I was filming, and then he [an Israeli solider] ran after me with a stun gun.
He could not catch me. One of his colleagues hit my hand from behind with a stun gun. My camera fell down. He ran to crush the camera with his feet.
I told him, don't break my camera. If you want the tapes, I will give them to you. I told him these are media equipment. They had no limits.
They used rubber bullets. They used tear gas bombs. It was an unbelievable scene.
Haneen Zubi, the occupied Palestinian territory
We were expecting the Israeli army to stop us, to prevent us from entering but surely we didn't expect such a war against us.
It was 14 ships which approached us, nearly at 4.30 in the morning. Fourteen ships that I could count and one helicopter. Maybe more than 10 soldiers, I couldn't say exactly [how many] were getting out of the helicopter.
On the second floor of the ship there were just passengers who are journalists, a nurse and organisers of the flotilla who didn't have anything in their hands.
After 20 minutes, maybe 15 minutes, there were three dead bodies.
It ended at six, when a voice from the microphone said the ship was controlled by the Israelis, 'please enter the rooms'.
Zubi is a Palestinian member of the Knesset.
Norman Paech, former member of the German parliament
This was not an act of self-defence [by the Israeli army], but rather it was completely disproportionate - although we were counting on our ship being blocked and maybe checked.
This was a very serious offence, this was a war crime.
I personally saw two and a half wooden sticks which were used [by activists].
Mihalis Grigoropoulos, Greece
I was steering the ship, we saw them [Israeli soldiers] capture another ship in front of us, which was the Turkish passenger vessel with more than 500 people on board and heard shots fired.
We did not resist at all, we couldn't even if we had wanted to. What could we have done against the commandos who climbed aboard?
The only thing some people tried was to delay them from getting to the bridge, forming a human shield. They were fired upon with plastic bullets and were stunned with electric devices.
There was great mistreatment after our arrest. We were essentially hostages, like animals on the ground.
They wouldn't let us use the bathroom, wouldn't give us food or water and they took video of us despite international conventions banning this.
Nilufer Cetin, Turkey
We stayed in our cabin and played games amid the sound of gunfire.
My son has been nervous since yesterday afternoon ... I did not need to protect my son.
They knew there was a baby on board. I put a gas mask and life jacket on my son.
We did not experience any other problems on board, only a water shortage.
We took walks on the deck, played games with my son. The curtains were drawn, so I did not see the raid as it was happening. I only heard the voices.
There are lightly and heavily wounded people.
There are thousands, millions of babies in Gaza. My son and I wanted to play with those babies. We planned to deliver them aid. We wanted to say: 'Look, it's a safe place, I came here with my baby-son.'
I saw my husband from a distance, he looked okay. The ship personnel was not wounded, because they [the soldiers] needed them to take the ship to port.
I will go again if another ship goes.
Cetin returned to Istanbul airport with her one-year-old son.
Youssef Benderbal, France
The instructions were clear. Do not provoke, remain calm and go to meet them [the commandos] saying 'we are pacifists and not terrorists'.
Masked commandos took possession of the ship. They were aiming for the captain's cabin.
Benderbal was not on board Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of the flotilla, but on one of the other five ships. He gave this account to Europe 1 radio after arriving at a Paris airport.
Dimitris Gielalis, Greece
Suddenly from everywhere we saw inflatables coming at us, and within seconds fully equipped commandos came up on the boat.
They came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used.
Gielalis was on board the ship Sfendoni.
Mutlu Tiryaki, Turkey
When we went up to the deck, they emerged from helicopters and military boats and attacked us.
They approached our vessel with military ships after issuing a warning. We told them we were unarmed. Our sole weapon was water.