Israeli Navy fires on Gaza monitoring boat with water cannons

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The Israeli Navy has fired water cannons at a Civil Peace Service Gaza boat that was monitoring fishing activity off the coast as the region sees an upturn in violence.

On July 13, the CPS Gaza said it was monitoring a cluster of fishing boats around two miles out to sea, which were being sprayed with a water cannon by the Israeli Navy, when the sailors turned the water cannon on the CPS vessel, the Oliva.

There were four people aboard the Oliva boat at the time, two CPS Gaza crewmembers (from the UK and Sweden), the captain and a journalist. Civil Peace Service Gaza is an international initiative aimed at monitoring potential human rights violations in Gazan territorial waters.

British human rights activist Ruqaya Al-Samarrai said that, “We were fewer than two miles away from the Gaza coast when they fired at us. We saw them firing water at some fishing boats so we headed to the area. When we got close, the warships left the fishing boats, and turned on us. They attacked us for about ten minutes, following us as we tried to head to shore and eventually lagged when we reached about one mile off the Gaza coast.”

CPS Gaza also reported that on the same day a fishing boat was also fired at and damaged with live rounds. Currently Israel claims to allow fishing boats to work within three miles off the coast of Gaza, but the limit is rarely respected and fishermen as close as 1.5 nautical miles are regularly targeted.

The following day, on July 14, the Oliva was attacked again with water cannons. At approximately 8:15 am, two Israeli gunboats approached the Oliva as it cruised within the three-nautical mile fishing zone unilaterally imposed and enforced by Israeli forces.

After circling it several times, they opened fire on it with water cannons, nearly filling it with water in an apparent attempt to sink it, the CPS said.

Two United States crew members and the Palestinian captain were rescued from the vessel by a small fishing boat, which transported them to a nearby trawler.

One of the warships then circled the trawler for nearly an hour, firing water cannons at it demanding to see its catch.

The warship eventually departed, after an amplified warning that if it returned to the sea, the Israeli navy would shoot both Palestinian fishermen and international human rights observers.
“Such behaviour and threats towards unarmed international observers clearly demonstrates an attempt to hide the ongoing crimes of an illegal blockade,” said Alexandra Robinson, a United States citizen and CPS Gaza crew member who experienced the attack.

An Israeli army spokesman told Maan News that he was unaware of the incident.

The fishing limit off Gaza was initially 20 nautical miles, but is presently often enforced between 1.5 – 2 nautical miles, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). The marine ‘buffer zone’ restricts Gazan fishermen from accessing 85% of Gaza’s fishing waters agreed to by the Oslo Accords established fifteen years ago, according to the PCHR.

In 2002 the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan tasked Catherine Bertini to negotiate with Israel on key issues regarding the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a 12 nautical mile fishing limit was agreed upon.

In June 2006, following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the crossing of Kerem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom), the Israeli Navy imposed a complete sea blockade for several months. When the complete blockade was finally lifted, Palestinian fishermen found that a 6 nautical mile limit was being enforced.

When Hamas gained political control of the Gaza Strip, the limit was reduced to 3 nautical miles. During the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead) in 2008-2009, a complete blockade was again declared. After Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army began imposing a 1.5 – 2 nautical miles limit.

The Israeli blockade has reduced catch by 90%, according to the PCHR and as a result, fishermen have turned to smuggling in fish from Egypt. According to the Fishermen’s Union, a monthly average of 105 tons of fish has been entering Gaza through the tunnels since the beginning of 2010.

The Israeli Navy activity off the coast of Gaza comes amid increased unrest in the territory. Today two Palestinian militants were injured after an Israeli air strike on southern Gaza. The Israeli army confirmed the air strike, which was the fifth confirmed air strike on Gaza in six days.

Meanwhile in northern Gaza, the Israeli air force dumped leaflets across the area warning people to avoid coming within 300 metres of the border fence, according to AFP.

Since Tuesday the region has been gripped by tit-for-tat violence which began after militants in Gaza fired rockets into southern Israel.

Army figures indicate that 22 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into southern Israel from Gaza since July 1.