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Israel army chief says forces fired 308 bullets on flotilla

Oct. 24, 2010 2:35 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 26, 2010 9:07 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli commandos fired 308 live bullets aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship in May, Israel's army chief said on Sunday as he testified again before the Tirkel panel investigating the incident.

Gabi Ashkenazi said the navy's killing of nine Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara had been unavoidable, British news wire Reuters reported.

Although commandos were equipped with riot-dispersal gear, it quickly switched to live fire "because if they had they had not done this, there would have been more casualties," Ashkenazi told the six-member panel. He added that rubber bullets, commonly used by forces in the West Bank during Palestinian demonstrations, were not used because of the confines of the ship.

Ashkenazi said 308 live rounds were fired by the troops. A top aide to the general told Reuters 70 of these were aimed to cause injury, while the rest were warning shots.

The news wire said the amount appeared consistent with Turkish forensic findings that the nine dead were shot a total of 30 times, and there were gunshot wounds among another 24 passengers who were hurt.

'Commandos hit those involved in attack'

Ashkenazi said passengers grabbed three Glock handguns and an Uzi machine pistol from commandos whom they overpowered but those on board have said that all weapons taken from troops were disposed of.

"We have testimony of one activist running at them [marines] and firing with a mini-Uzi, and them shooting him," he said. "They hit those who were clearly involved in the attack on them, and not those who were not."

The UN Human Rights Council -- which Israel boycotted -- alleged in a report last month that several passengers may have been executed. According to the report, one of the victims sustained a fatal brain injury from a so-called "beanbag" round -- a heavy pad fired from a shotgun and which, at safe ranges, is designed to knock down the person targeted.

Ashkenazi said commandos had fired 350 beanbag rounds and non-lethal paintballs, all according to "prescribed method."

Backing the commandos' account, Ashkenazi said they were combat veterans who "know when they are being shot at." But he also seemed to make allowances for the haze of melee.

"I won't take issue with a soldier who might confuse a slingshot, and the whizz its missile makes as it flies past, with a pistol, in night-time" conditions, he said.
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