Israeli commandos shot passengers at the rate of one a minute during the bloody raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, a Briton on board the main vessel said today.
Ismail Patel, chairman of Leicester-based Palestinian rights group Friends of Al Aqsa, said one of the nine people killed during the assault was shot just two feet in front of him.
He claimed the commandos had a “shoot to kill” policy during the initial phase of the attack on the Mavi Marmara, with live rounds being fired on the vessel from a helicopter hovering above.
Mr Patel, who returned to the UK today after attending the funerals of his shipmates in Turkey, told a press conference in Westminster the gunfire on the vessel last around an hour.
Despite Israeli claims of armed resistance, Mr Patel said those on board acted in self-defence using whatever was at hand.
His voice choked with emotion, Mr Patel said: “We now can calculate that they shot one person every minute.
“One person was shot every minute. There were nine fatalities, over 48 people with gunshot wounds, six are unaccounted for.”
Mr Patel said the initial assault was mounted from the water, with sound bombs, tear gas and stun grenades fired against the Mavi Marmara, but people on the vessel threw items overboard to repel the attack.
Then the helicopter appeared overhead “and started using immediately live ammunition” without any warning being issued.
After the first victim fell the white flag was raised, Mr Patel said, but Israeli forces continued firing and soldiers rappelled to the deck on ropes.
The first two troops were disarmed but their weapons were handed back once the ammunition had been removed “emphasising to them that we were not looking for a conflict”.
As the bloodshed continued, Mr Patel said: “Somebody fell approximately two feet in front of me and died. He was shot in the back of his head.
“That man was not resisting, that man was not carrying anything.”
As the death toll mounted Mr Patel used the ship’s public address system to call for a surrender.
“I spoke in English very calmly and said ’we are only civilians, we surrender’ and requested my colleagues to sit down in their chairs, put their hands and legs on the tables and not to make any movement.”
But, he said: “Despite our repeated calls the firing continued.”
Mr Patel said he believed that “initially the Israeli soldiers were shooting to kill” but later victims were injured in their legs after a “tactical move” to wound rather then kill.
Once the troops had the passengers surrounded the vessel was diverted to an Israeli port and Mr Patel and his colleagues were detained in prison.
Alex Harrison, 32, from Islington, North London, was on one of the smaller vessels in the flotilla and witnessed the Mavi Marmara being stormed.
Ms Harrison, from the Free Gaza Movement, said: “I have seen some selective footage that the Israelis have chosen to put out suggesting that we responded with violence.
“You must remember that these are unarmed civilians on their own boat in the middle of the Mediterranean.
“People picked up what they could to defend themselves against armed, masked commandos who were shooting.”
The violence was “initiated by the Israelis on a massive scale”, she said.
Both Ms Harrison and Mr Patel were critical of the consular assistance offered by the British while they were detained in Israel.
Mr Patel said he was not visited by anyone from the British mission and Ms Harrison said the consul told her that Israeli officials had prevented him visiting captured Britons.
She said: “I did see the British consul. He told me that he had sitting outside the prison all day ... asking for access and not been given it.
“I see that as an insult from Israel to the British, that they were denying the British consul the right that citizens have.
“I also see it as a sign that the British don’t have the strength to stand up to Israel.”
Israel has previously said its troops had been left with no choice after they came under attack from activists armed with knives and iron bars when they were dropped by helicopter onto the ship.
But journalist Hassan Ghani, who was on the Mavi Marmara, insisted those on the boat were civilians who did not have weapons.
Mr Ghani, 25, from Glasgow, told BBC Radio Scotland’s 'Good Morning Scotland' programme that people “used sticks, chairs, anything to stop these solders who were coming down with machine guns and tasers and firing rubber bullets and later on using live ammunition on civilians”.
The journalist said: “We knew Israel would do some sort of action, but we thought they would perhaps just try to scare us and then allow us through.
“We didn’t expect a ship with 32 different nationalities on board, with aid from 50 different countries on board, would be attacked in such a brutal manner.”