Monday, October 6, 2008

ISM Rafah: Israeli navy fire shells at Gazan fishermen

October 6th, 2008
On Sunday October 5th, two international human rights observers accompanied a Gazan fishing boat offshore of Jabalya.

Soon an Israeli gunboat approached. The internationals, after a request from the Palestinian captain, made clear that there was an international presence on board. For a while the Israeli gunboat seemed to leave but then, suddenly, from a large distance began to fire shells very close to two Gazan fishing boats, including the one accompanied by the internationals. The Palestinian fishing boats were about 4 nautical miles from the coast.
Although the 2 fishing boats had already changed their course the Israeli gunboat intercepted them and started to fire machine gun shots in front of their bows (something which also constitutes a breach of the ceasefire agreement). This Israeli gunboat didn’t stop harassing the fishing boats till the moment a larger boat of the Israeli Navy arrived and began a severe water cannon attack on the fishing boat which the internationals were present on. The Israeli soldiers, from a close range were shooting high pressure water directly on to the Palestinian fishermen (including a minor) and the internationals. They were also shooting the water inside the wheelhouse preventing the captain from steering the fishing boat. They caused damages to the fishing boat including to electrical lights and by breaking the glass windows of the wheelhouse, and the wooden panels which had been attached to protect them. Fortunately no one was injured (in a similar incident on 16/9 an Italian activist had been injured by shattered glass and was hospitalized). There were also shots from the machine gun of the Israeli navy boat, while it was sailing side by side with the Gazan fishing boat.
Later, the same fishing boat received continuous harassment by other Israeli gunboats that were shooting with their machine guns around the fishing boat. There were times when the internationals observed at least 4 Israeli heavily armed gunboats having invaded Palestinian waters out of northern Gaza strip in order to harass no more than 3 Palestinian fishing boats in the whole area.
In the afternoon one of the gunboats approached the fishing boat and started circling it producing waves in order to destabilize it.
Finally, after the sunset, as the fishing boat was returning to port a distant gunboat began firing a machine gun in its general direction. Just how close this fire was to the boat was clear from the glow of the tracer bullets. The internationals also observed once more that in clear violation of international nautical law, the Israeli gunboats are not using their lights during night time.