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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli vessel hits Gaza-bound boat

Israeli vessel hits Gaza-bound boat

Dignity was carrying aid for Gaza's beleaguered
health care system [AFP]

An Israeli naval vessel has hit a small boat carrying activists trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Dignity was reportedly taking on water as it limped towards Lebanon on Tuesday.

The Free Gaza Movement, which organised the attempt to reach the territory with more than three tonnes of medical aid, said their boat was "rammed" and shots were fired.

The group said the Dignity was in international waters about 115km off the coast of Gaza when the incident occurred late on Monday.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, denied there had been any shooting but said that the ships had made "physical contact".

He said that the crew of the Dignity had failed to respond to Israeli naval radio contact.


Ekizi Ernshire, one of the activists onboard the boat, told Al Jazeera by telephone that the boat was rammed twice from the front and then once from the side.

"It has destroyed the front of the boat and the roof ... and has left the cabin, the wheelhouse quite destroyed," she said.

"... we were threatened directly by the Israeli navy that if we continued on our course towards Gaza they would attack us again"

Ekizi Ernshire,
activist onboard Dignity

"We are heading towards Lebanon as the boat is not in a fit state to return to Larnaca [Cyprus] and we were threatened directly by the Israeli navy that if we continued on our course towards Gaza they would attack us again."

Several small boats have arrived in the Gaza Strip carrying international activists and medical aid since August in defiance of the Israeli siege.

Ernshire said that the incident would not stop the movement trying again to take aid to the impoverished territory.

"The majority of passenger here are determined, once we reach Lebanon, to keep continuing to organise such boats as these, to reach the people of Gaza," she said.

Gaza health system is struggling to cope with the casualties from four consecutive days of aerial bombardment by Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships.

Hospitals were already facing shortages of medicines and other medical products due to the Israeli siege imposed after the Hamas government seized full control of the territory in 2007.

As well as more than three tonnes of aid, the Dignity was

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