Israel attacks Gaza aid fleet - twelve Malaysian including two members of the media, are confirmed on board
Israeli forces have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships aiming to break the country's siege on Gaza.
At least 19 people were killed and dozens injured when troops intercepted the convoy of ships dubbed the Freedom Flotilla early on Monday, Israeli radio reported.
The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.
Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, confirmed that the attack took place in international waters, saying: "This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves."
Footage from the flotilla's lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship and helicopters flying overhead.
The Israeli military said four soldiers had been wounded and claimed troops opened fire after "demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs".
Free Gaza Movement, the organisers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the convoy.
Our correspondent said that a white surrender flag was raised from the ship and there was no live fire coming from the passengers.
Before losing communication with our correspondent, a voice in Hebrew was clearly heard saying: "Everyone shut up".
Earlier, the Israeli navy had contacted the captain of the Mavi Marmara, asking him to identify himself and say where the ship was headed.
Shortly after, two Israeli naval vessels had flanked the flotilla on either side, but at a distance.
Organisers of the flotilla carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid then diverted their ships and slowed down to avoid a confrontation during the night.
They also issued all passengers life jackets and asked them to remain below deck.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Israeli action was surprising.
"All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation," he said.
Twelve Malaysians, including two members of the media, are confirmed on board the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel of a pro-Palestine flotilla that was attacked by Israeli forces today.
The two media workers are Astro Awani journalist Ashwad Ismail and cameraman Samsul Kamal Abdul Latip.
They are part of an 11-member mission out of Malaysia called Lifeline4Gaza, which participated in a 'Freedom Flotilla' to bring humanitarian aid and supplies to the Gaza strip.
It is understood however that Lifeline4Gaza may not be the only mission from Malaysia, as several other groups are believed to have gone separately on other ships in the flotilla.
Lifeline4Gaza's Hafidzi Mohd Noor said the other nine in their group are volunteers from six Malaysian NGOs.
They include Haluan, Aqsa Syarif, Yayasan Amal, Muslim Care, Palestine Centre of Excellence (Pace) and Jemaah Islamiah Malaysia (JIM).
Hafidzi, who was unable to maintain contact with their group when the attack started, noted that they do not know the identity of the 12th Malaysian on board the Turkish-registered Mavi Marmara.
"We were made to understand that one volunteer from Mapim (another Malaysian NGO) was supposed to join them on the Mavi Marmara, as the Greek ship he was on was facing technical problems, but we don't know if he actually went on or not," Hafidzi said when contacted.
Dr M:"ISRAEL THE ROGUE STATE"
1. I am horrified at the violence employed by Israel to stop the ships from carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The ships are in international waters, yet the arrogant Israelis do not care to respect international laws and convention.
2. The claim that the people on the ships are carrying sharp objects is ridiculous. Are they going to fight the well armed Israeli soldiers with sharp objects?
3. Do Israeli soldiers shoot to kill people carrying sharp objects? The act is most cowardly and deserving only of brutes, not civilised people.
4. What kind of world are we living in when it allows a rogue state to use violence and killings against unarmed people on a mission of charity.