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Israeli occupation navy ships fire at Gazan fishermen and rights activists in waters near Gaza City

Date: 01 / 09 / 2008  Time:  12:41
Bethlehem Ma'an

Israeli occupation navy vessels fired on Gazan fishermen and international Human Rights activists with the Free Gaza movement on Monday morning.

The Free Gaza movement reported live bullets fired near Gaza City, where five internationals were accompanying fishing boats during daily work in Gaza territorial waters. The group said the boats were "several miles offshore" when Israeli ships opened fire.

No injuries have yet been reported.

Activists from the Free Gaza boats who have remained in the Strip joined Gazan fishermen Monday morning as they launched their boats in order to monitor Israeli Naval aggressions.

There have been repeated reports of warning shots, arrests and boat shadowing by the Israeli navy patrolling Gazan waters.

Israel enforces a "Fishing Limit" that is 6 nautical miles (11.1 km) from the Gaza shore. The international waters boundary and the 1996 Oslo accords boundary both state that Gaza waters extend 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coast, and the 2002 Bertini agreement (signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority) has the boundary lying 12 nautical miles or 22.2 km from the Gaza coast. The current "Fishing Limit" has been imposed by the Israeli navy since October 2006.

The Israeli navy began limiting traffic going in or coming out if the Gaza Strip starting in the mid-1990s when the Oslo accords were signed. All traffic was halted since 2007, when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.

The Free Gaza activists will be joined by others from the International Solidarity movement in Gaza, who will record and document all instances of Israeli naval aggression and harassment.

The activists announced Monday that they would be present on any fishing boat at any time along the entire Gaza coast from Monday morning onwards. They said that they hoped the presence of internationals would deter further Israeli aggression.

The fishing industry employs some 3,000 individuals, who rely on traveling deep enough into the Mediterranean to catch sardine as they migrate from the Nile delta northwards every spring.

The Free Gaza movement has focused its efforts this year on exposing and halting what they call the illegal Israeli control of Gazan coastal waters. Since Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, and claims not to be an occupying force in the area, the movement attests that Gazans should have control over their own ports.

The movement successfully landed two boats in the closed Gaza port on Saturday 23 August. Israeli army and government officials had initially planned on preventing the ships from landing, but made a last minute decision to allow them to pass. The government later called the event a "one-time" deal, and promised it would not allow other ships through into Gaza.

When all but 9 of the Free Gaza activists left the Gaza port for Cyprus in Thursday 28 August, they brought with them seven Palestinians, who for the first time in years did not have to ask Israeli or Egyptian permission to leave the Strip. The Palestinian government in Gaza stamped the passports and travel documents of those leaving, who arrived in Cyprus the following day by ship.

***Updated 12:50 Bethlehem time

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