IDF seizes boat from Gaza attempting to breach naval blockade
MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)
The Israeli Navy stopped a Gazan fishing boat attempting to breach the naval blockade on Tuesday arresting eight people on board, four of of whom were said to have been wounded.
"After the boat and the Palestinians on board are searched, the boat will be towed to the Israeli navy base in Ashdod," Israel's military said in a statement. "The (military) assigned medical personnel to treat Palestinians on board requiring medical assistance,” the IDF added.
Hundreds of people had gathered to see off the boat reportedly headed for Cyprus with the intention of accessing medical treatment for the injured and handicapped passengers aboard. However, the boat was seized by Israel's navy a short time after setting off.
Mahmud Abu Ataya, 25, who recently suffered a leg wound east of Gaza City, said: "I am leaving to be cared for abroad."
The passengers "with specific needs are prevented from travelling, receiving care and finishing their studies," said organiser Raed Abu Dair. "We are determined to break the blockade."
A similar attempt was made in May when a boat carrying 20 accompanied by a group of smaller ones attempting to protest the blockade. It also resulted in Israeli forces seizing the main boat several kilometers (miles) out to sea and the IDF providing medical treatment to some of the passengers.
“This is the second time in two months that the Hamas terror group tried to cause a provocation at sea by taking advantage of injured and handicapped people and by paying residents of Gaza to take part in this kind of activity,” the army said.
Israel's blockade restricts Gazan boats to up to six nautical miles off the enclave. UN officials and rights activists have repeatedly called for Israel to lift the blockade, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
However, Israel claims ‘the naval blockade is a necessary and legal security measure that has been recognized repeatedly by the world and the UN as important to the security of the state and its maritime borders that protect Israeli civilians in the face of terror and smuggling of weapons,” the IDF statement wrote.
On Monday, Israel announced its closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing, its only goods crossing with the Gaza Strip, in response to weeks of fires at farms caused by the launching kites and balloons affixed with firebombs from the Palestinian enclave.
A spokesman for Israel's fire service says 750 fires have burned 2,600 hectares, putting the damage at millions of shekels (hundreds of thousands of dollars/euros).
Gazans began launching the kites as part of protests along the border calling for Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes now inside Israel. It has gained popularity amongst Gazans due to its ability to inflict costly destruction on Israeli land without putting themselves in danger.
Since protests and clashes broke out along the Gaza border on March 30, at least 139 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli lethal and non-lethal force, of which 50 were identified as members of Hamas or other terrorist groups. No Israelis have been killed.
The majority were involved in protests and clashes, but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.
(AFP contributed to this report)
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