Thursday, 3 June 2010

Leading UK activist gives eyewitness account of attack on Gaza flotilla

Sarah Colborne of Palestine Solidarity Campaign , still wearing what she called her "prison uniform", gave an eyewitness account of Israel's assault on the Freedom Flotilla at a press conference today.

She explained other UK activists couldn't be there because they were in Istanbul, attending the funerals of international activists killed in the early hours of Monday morning.

Sarah said she feels "the figure of 9 dead that Israel is giving" is not accurate and she "expects that figure to rise". She said her boat was attacked by the Israeli military despite containing parliamentarians.

She explained that Israeli boats were detected on their radar at 11pm on Sunday night, so a decision was made to move further away from Israel into international waters. Israel then cut its satellite signal to make it harder to broadcast from the flotilla of aid boats. However, they still managed to broadcast some messages.

Having fallen asleep at around 2am, Sarah says she awoke at 4.10am and went on deck, seeing "small dinghys bristling with guns and the Israeli military, speeding towards the ship. Helicopters then appeared, gas and sour bombs were used."

There were then gunshots on the Challenger, the boat behind. Sarah recalled how the first passenger to be fatally injured was brought to the back of the deck. She said: "He was shot in the head. I saw him. He was obviously in a very bad way and he subsequently died."

At 5.15am, Sarah says, they called on the Israeli forces to suspend their attacks so they could evacuate the injured for emergency medical help. She says they were "surrounded by soldiers, targeting individuals with laser sights."

There were repeated attempts to get their plea for medical help across - in Hebrew and English, in writing and over the tannoy - but it wasn't until 7am that "the Israelis started allowing the first critically injured person out".

Even then it wasn't possible for any medics aboard the flotilla to accompany the critically injured to hospital. Instead they "were cuffed and put on the deck".

Sarah says she personally saw 4 dead bodies laid out. She and others aboard were moved off the boats, cuffed with cable ties, had cameras and other equipment removed, and were forced to sit or kneel in lines. "Obviously the sun was quite strong, and I was aware that people were started to get dehydrated. I had to request that water be allowed to be given."

Sarah says some activists were still cuffed as late as 11am. She and others were taken to a prison and denied consulate access. It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that the British consular representative was able to gain access to those imprisoned.

Sarah made it clear she and the other UK activists have not been intimidated from striving to end the bloackade of Gaza.

"This is simply an attempt by Israel to prevent humanitarian aid getting to Gaza. We, along with all of the other groups that participated in that mission, are committed to continuing to pressurise the governments of the world to end the blockade of Gaza."

"We will continue to challenge this blockade, to work and campaign to end the siege on Gaza."


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