Barak: Sail's organizers responsible for deadly raid
(Video) Defense minister, IDF chief of staff and Navy commander explain Israeli considerations following takeover of aid ships sailing to Gaza, which left at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists dead. 'We regret the casualties, but soldiers were in danger'
Speaking at a joint press briefing with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navy Commander Eliezer Marom, Barak said, "We express our regret over the injuries, but the sail's organizers and its participants are fully responsible."
He added that a violent incident took place on only one of the six ships involved in the sail.
"The State of Israel appealed to the organizers before the ships set sail and during the sail and invited them to arrive at the Ashdod Port and transfer the aid to Gaza after security checks," he said. "All of our appeals were turned down. The soldiers were attacked after arriving at one of the ships. Some were injured by serious physical violence on the part of the protestors.
"I am familiar with these types of operations and their possible developments, and I am familiar with the units which operated and with their commanders. They are the best of our people," the defense minister explained.
"In light of the life-threatening situation, the soldiers were forced to use crowd dispersal means and firearms," he said, adding that some of the casualties were killed by firearms. According to Barak, 10 soldiers were injured in the incident, some from firearms and some from cold arms.
"The IHH organization, which was behind these unruly ship, is a violent and radical organization acting under the cover of humanitarian activity," Barak argued.
"This is the time for responsibility and I call on everyone to act with restraint and common sense and not let an anarchistic organization and radical elements seeking to undermine the public order to take advantage of this unfortunate incident for violence."
'Crowd dispersal equipment wasn't enough'
IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi said that during the clash with the passengers of the Marmara ship, the activists used iron bars and knives.
"They even fired shots from a weapon snatched from one of the soldiers," he said. "It's clear beyond any doubt that the soldiers acted as required."
Ashkenazi (L), Barak and Marom (Photo: Dalit Shacham)
Ashkenazi added that the soldiers were prepared for the mission, but that "the crowd dispersal equipment was not enough."
As for the organizers' intentions, the army chief insisted that "it had nothing to do with humanitarian aid. The activity was radical from the very first moment."
According to Ashkenazi, the Navy operation was aimed at preventing an unsupervised infiltration of people and cargo to Gaza.
Navy chief: Troops demonstrated courage
Navy Commander Marom said that "through the incident, the fighters demonstrated courage and determination, while using a great amount of restraint."
According to Marom, the results of the deadly incident could have been much worse had the soldiers acted differently. "On all five ships there was no need for live ammunition to stop the sail, and with appropriate treatment we managed to stop the ships and take control of them."
Moving on to the Israeli injuries, the Navy chief said one fighter was suffering from a serous head injury, two others were injured by gunshots and one more was stabbed."
Marom added that before the violence began, the Marmara passengers rejected the army's calls with "obscene language and inappropriate behavior." He said the fighters who got on the ship were attacked by the 600 passengers with "unusual violence, which put their lives in danger."
According to the Navy commander, the soldiers responded with crowd dispersal means, but were forced to open fire due to the life-threatening situation.
Marom said his people "were physically, operationally and mentally prepared" for the operation, and noted that the sail's organizers were warned in the weeks before the incident not to approach the Gaza coast.