Israeli commandos on Monday stormed six ships carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on an aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens after encountering unexpected resistance as the forces boarded the vessels.

The operation in international waters off the Gaza coast was a nightmare scenario for Israel that looked certain to further damage its international standing, strain already tense relations with Turkey and draw unwanted attention to Gaza's plight.

The two sides offered conflicting accounts of what happened.

A reporter on one of the boats said the Israelis fired at the vessel before boarding it, and the Israelis said they only opened fire after being attacked by activists with sticks, knives and live fire.

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