‘Gaza Ark’ against Israeli blockade to be launched spring 2014
Member of the Gaza Strip association of fishermen Mahfouth Kabariti said Sunday that the Gaza Ark was supposed to set sail by the end of 2013, but as a result of the closure of Rafah crossing, the launch has been delayed to spring 2014.
He noted that in order to be seaworthy, the Gaza Ark still needed international standard navigation equipment that could only be brought into Gaza via the Rafah crossing.
Kabariti added that several donors had supported the idea of Gaza Ark and that many countries were willing to allow it to enter their harbors. Asked about progress of work on the vessel, Kabariti told Ma'an that infrastructures and fuel tanks had been completed and that the outside body and the passenger cabins were being built.
The vessel, he said, will be 24 meters long and 7 meters wide and will carry 15 people including solidarity activists in addition to goods.
"It will be the first vessel to carry Gaza's products to the outside world serving Palestinian producers and developing the culture of building boats which has almost vanished as a result of Israel's ongoing closure of sea industry in Gaza."
The ark is one in a series of global efforts designed to challenge Israel's 7-year long blockade of the Gaza Strip. While numerous boats have attempted to sail into Gaza, the Gaza Ark is the first attempt by Palestinians to break out by sea.
If they are successful, this will be the first time goods from Gaza have been exported by sea since the signing of the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords.
In May 2010, nine Turkish activists were slaughtered during an Israeli raid on a six-ship flotilla trying to reach Gaza in defiance of the blockade.
Although the international outcry which followed the deadly raid forced Israel to significantly ease the terms of its blockade on Gaza, tight curbs remain in place on exports and travel.
Under the terms of the current restrictions, Gaza fishermen are not allowed to enter waters more than six nautical miles from the shore, with naval patrol boats known to fire on those who step out of line.
The Gaza Strip has been under a severe economic blockade imposed by Israel since 2006. The blockade was imposed following the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections and the subsequent 2007 clashes between Fatah and Hamas, which left Hamas in control of the Strip and Fatah in control of the West Bank.
The blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans. These have been particularly severe given frequently Israeli military assaults, particularly in 2008-9 and 2011, which killed around 1,400 and 170 Gazans respectively and led to major infrastructural damage.
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