Gaza's Ark—a freedom flotilla aimed at breaking the Israeli blocked from within this besieged strip—was rocked by an explosion early Tuesday, partially sinking the vessel weeks before it was to set sail from the Gaza Port.
According to a statement from Gaza's Ark, no one was injured in the blast, but the night guard "was taken to the hospital for tests."
Ehab Lotayef, member of Gaza's Ark steering committee, told Common Dreams, "We don't have solid proof of who carried out the attack, but it is very clear there is one specific entity interested in the boat not sailing and in continuing the blockade of Gaza."
This is the first physical attack against Gaza's Ark, which has been under construction for nearly a year. Jointly organized by Palestinians in Gaza—including the Palestine Sailing Federation and the Fishermen’s Solidarity Campaign—and international solidarity organizations, the vessel was constructed by Palestinians and slated to embark in June on a voyage through international waters carrying Palestinian goods and people from Gaza and around the world.
"The goal is to challenge the ongoing, illegal Israeli blockade and focus worldwide attention on the situation in Gaza and the complicity of the governments that support it or look the other way," according to the organization's website.
The Ark is affiliated with the Freedom Flotilla coalition, whose vessels have attempted to deliver humanitarian aid and other materials to Gaza. According to Lotayef, by starting from within Palestine, and employing only Palestinian labor, Gaza's Ark organizers hope to "empower people in Gaza and help elevate the lack of jobs."
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The explosion Tuesday follows numerous attacks on vessels attempting to break the siege, including a 2010 Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara ship sailing from Turkey that killed nine people and injured dozens, sparking global condemnation.
Since 2007, Israel—with U.S. backing—has intensified its blockade of Gaza, trapping and isolating its population of 1.7 million people. The siege has strangled the local economy, forcing 80 percent of all people in Gaza to rely on humanitarian aid, and has cut residents off from essential goods, including clean water and medical supplies.
While Palestinian fishing vessels are ostensibly allowed to travel six nautical miles from the Gaza shore, they have reported coming under Israeli fire just two nautical miles out.
Yet organizers say they are determined to continue the plan to sail from Gaza's waters and are currently assessing the condition of the boat and charting out next steps.
"Neither this nor any other attack will stop our efforts to challenge the blockade of Gaza until it ends," adds David Heap of Gaza's Ark Steering Committee.
Said Lotayef, "You can sink a boat but you can't sink a movement."