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Middle East

Gaza flotilla reporter describes 'brutal' Israeli assault

A British journalist today told how Israeli commandos had carried out a "brutal" assault on the boat he was on as it attempted to take aid to Gaza.

Hassan Ghani, 25, from Glasgow, was on board the Mavi Marmara, the main ship in the aid flotilla which was targeted by the Israelis.

He told how the Israelis had first fired grenades on to the boat as some of its passengers were at morning prayers.

And he went on to describe how soldiers first tried to board the vessel from the side, before dropping down onto it from helicopters.

But he said the "overriding memory" of the attack was of the deaths of nine people.

Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday confirmed that a total of 34 of the activists on the aid flotilla were British, with all but two of them having been sent to Turkey.

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 Mr Ghani insisted those those on the boat were civilians who did not have weapons.

He 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."

Mr Ghani, who was speaking from Turkey, said those on board the boat had been "aware of the potential of an attack".

But he added: "We weren't expecting the amount of force that they used.

"They began by throwing stun grenades on to the deck of the ship when people were in the middle of morning prayers.

"Then they began using rubber bullets, they tried to come aboard the ship from the side. People repelled the commandos with water cannons they had set up on the side of the ship.

"Then the Israelis used helicopters to drop people onto roof and there was scuffles on the roof.

"The Israeli solders had already opened fire on the ship, so people were grabbing anything they could to stop the attack in international waters."

Prime Minister David Cameron has already condemned the Israeli action as "completely unacceptable" and called for the lifting of the three-year blockade of Gaza.

And Mr Ghani said: "This was not in Israeli waters so the soldiers had no right.

"Essentially it has been described as an act of piracy because they had no right to board the ship."

He said people had used "whatever they could" against the commandos.

And he stated: "The overriding memory is the memory of those nine people who were killed, all of them Turkish nationals, trying to stop the Israeli forces from launching their armed attack on this humanitarian civilian vessel.

"They had no weapons, they used their bodies and as a result they paid a fatal price.

"We saw the funeral of those people yesterday."

His father Haq Ghani, 60, said he was relieved that his son was "safe and sound".

He added: "It's just a matter of his mental state after what he witnessed, the killings and so on.

"We are a bit worried about that, but we are very very pleased that he is safe and sound and back in a safe land."

He said he believed his son may stay in Turkey for a week or so before returning to the UK.