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Saturday, July 19, 2008
Ship sponsored in part by Carter Center to challenge Israeli blockade of Gaza Port

"Free Gaza" initiative to try and enter Gaza by sea and open port
Date: 19 / 07 / 2008 Time: 14:58
www.maannews.net/en/index.php?opr=ShowDetails&ID=30657

Bethlehem - Ma'an - A small shipping vessel will set sail for Gaza from
Cyprus on 5 August expecting to be illegally detained as it enters Gazan
waters.

The waters off the Gaza Strip are patrolled by Israeli naval vessels, and
Israel enforces a "Fishing Limit" that is 6 nautical miles (11.1 km) from
the Gaza shore. These restrictions on access and borders are enforced
despite the 2005 Israeli "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip.

There will be 60 people aboard the "Free Gaza" vessel including a Holocaust
survivor a survivor of the Palestinian Nakba, and members of the
international Palestinian diaspora.

The crew intends to travel into the Gaza strip, past the international
waters boundary, the 1996 Oslo accords boundary (20 nautical miles from the
Gaza coast), the 2002 Bertini agreement boundary (12 nautical miles and 22.2
km from the Gaza coast) and the current "Fishing Limit" imposed by the
Israeli navy since October 2006.

Legally, the group says there should be no problem passing each of these
lines since Israel disengaged from the Gaza strip in 2005 and should no
longer its control airspace and territorial waters.

The initiative hopes to draw attention to the continued de facto occupation
of Gaza. In an interview with Ma'an on Saturday, a spokesperson for the
group in Israel said that the crew expects to be stopped by the Israeli navy
shortly after they cross from international waters into Gazan territorial
waters, which according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea, extend 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from an area's shoreline.

While Israel has not signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, they
did sign the Bertini Agreement in August 2002 with the UN, which stated that
Gazan territory extended the full 12 nautical miles from the shore.

In June 2005, Israel unilaterally "disengaged" from Gaza and withdrew all
troops to the 1967 borders. In theory, Gazans control the entire Strip,
excluding approximately 650 meters along the eastern border which is called
a buffer and "no go" zone.

The trip organizers think one of four things will happen to the ship: it may
be stopped as it crosses or approaches the barrier marking the international
waters boundary, in which case the crew is prepared to stay on board for at
least two weeks in protest of the illegal halt of passage. The second
possibility envisioned by the organizers is that the ship will be allowed to
pass into the area, and will be stopped in the territorial waters. In this
eventuality the crew expects to be arrested, and the ship dragged to shore.

A third possibility is that the ship will be sunk by the navy.

The final option is that the ship actually makes it through to the Gaza port
near Gaza City in the north of the Strip.

According to Holocaust survivor and crew member Hedy Epstein, in the event
that they can get through to Gaza they will "open the port, fish with the
fishermen, help in the clinics, and work in the schools."

What Epstein hopes to do on this journey is to "remind the world that we
will not stand by and watch 1.5 million people suffer death by starvation
and disease."

Coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Siege, Palestinian
Legislative Council member and lawyer Jamal Al-Khudari said that he hopes
the arrival of the ship in Gaza will mean an end to the siege. He emphasized
that the ship has a right to enter the local waters and Gazans have the
right to host their guests without Israeli intervention.

Opening a port in Gaza would allow residents to export agricultural
products, and gain control over the goods and material brought into the
region. Currently, all crossing points are controlled by Israel and Egypt.
The truce between Hamas and Israel was supposed to see the blockade and
restriction on essential goods lifted, but food, medical supplies, cement
and fuel are still only trickling in.

The ship was invited to Gaza by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the
Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, the Palestinian Centre
for Human Rights and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and support
for the initiative was provided in part from Carter Center in the US and
Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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