JERUSALEM, Israel - Protesters on board the flagship of the Gaza flotilla used guns, knives, clubs and metal pipes to attack IDF naval forces who boarded the vessels around 2:00 a.m. Monday morning.
"It was a well-planned lynch," one IDF officer said. "These people were anything but peace activists," he said, this despite repeated claims they were unarmed civilians on a humanitarian mission.
The confrontation took place after the flotilla ignored a series of warnings that began around 11:00 p.m., requesting them to redirect to the Ashdod port where they could unload their cargo for land transport to Gaza.
Click here to read an analysis of today's confrontation by Dr. Mordechai Keder of Bar-Ilan University. Here's more from Chris Mitchell's Jerusalem Dateline.
When naval forces boarded the Mavi Marmara, they were met with gunfire, long knives, metal pipes and clubs. Two passengers fired weapons they had grabbed from soldiers.
"As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire," the IDF Spokesperson's Office said in a press release.
"According to initial reports, these events resulted in over 10 deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injured," the IDF said, including 15 Navy commandos, two critically injured.
IAF helicopters evacuated some of the injured to Israeli hospitals.
'Premeditated and Outrageous Provocation'
At a press conference Monday morning, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Ayalon said the protesters' response was "a premeditated and outrageous provocation," planned and carried out by Islamists with ties to Hamas and al-Qaeda.
"Their intent was violent, their methods violent and their results were unfortunately violent," Ayalon told reporters.
"Israel regrets the loss of life and did everything it could to avoid this outcome," he said.
Earlier Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak blamed the flotilla's organizers for the loss of life in what he called a "political provocation" supported by terror organizations.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the confrontation "a slaughter," according to an Agence France Presse report.
An al-Jazzera correspondent aboard one of the vessels claimed the IDF attacked the flotilla in international waters, with aerial support and gas.
A Qatari TV station broadcast live images interspersed with Hamas spokesmen vowing to punish Israel for "the new crime."
"This is state-sponsored organized terror," senior Hamas official Ismail Raduan said. "We are calling on the international community to do something," he said.
"These are crimes against humanity and against our Palestinian people. We call on all members of the Arab and Muslim people to launch protests of rage and solidarity," Raduan said.
Gaza-based Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called on the U.N. to intervene on behalf of the Palestinian people against Israel's "brutal attack."
Jerusalem Post correspondent Yaacov Katz summed it up pretty well.
"Pictures and videotapes published and broadcast around the world" will be fodder for "another chapter in an international campaign to chip away at Israel's legitimate right to defend itself," Katz said.
The ships will be taken to the Ashdod port where the cargo will undergo security checks before being transported to Gaza.
The Jerusalem Post and YNet contributed to this report.