Activists Arrive on Hamas-Controlled Gaza Strip to Bring Attention to Israeli Sanctions

A boat carrying 27 international activists sailed into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, braving stormy seas and defying an Israeli naval blockade to bring attention to Israeli sanctions on the Hamas-controlled territory.

Israel had threatened to block the boat. But navy ships did not interfere, and the boat sailed unhindered into a Gaza harbor, where it was greeted by Hamas policemen and a small group of Palestinian activists.

In the West Bank, Palestinians said Israeli troops shot and killed a 67-year-old farmer during a nighttime raid.

The 66-foot (20-meter) yacht Dignity took off from the nearby island of Cyprus on Tuesday with a shipment of humanitarian supplies. The passengers included Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
"The government of Israel cannot cut off Gaza forever. We will come again and again," Maguire said. The activists — who also include Italians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans — are scheduled to remain in Gaza for four days.

Maguire was wounded at an April 2007 demonstration against Israel's West Bank security barrier when a rubber bullet fired by police hit her in the leg.

The Dignity was chartered by the U.S.-based Free Gaza group, which sailed two similar boats into Gaza in August. Israel let those boats through, saying at the time that ignoring them would deny the protesters the publicity they were seeking.

Israel initially said it would not allow this one to dock, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the decision was changed late Tuesday. He would not comment further.

Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza after the Islamic group Hamas violently seized control of the territory in June 2007, and later tightened the sanctions because of daily rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli towns. Egypt has also kept its border crossing with the territory closed.

Israel and Hamas are currently observing a truce, and the flow of goods into Gaza has slightly increased. But Palestinians say the easing of the sanctions has done little to alleviate the shortages of key goods in Gaza.

Israeli activist Gideon Spiro said he joined the boat to express his opposition to his government policy toward Gaza. "It is collective punishment against people who did not do anything wrong, especially children, women, elderly people, and I think that's not the way to handle it and that's why I'm here," he said.

Jamal Khoudary, one of the Palestinian organizers of the protest, said the boat would take 10 Gazans back to Cyprus, including students and patients needing medical care. Israel and Egypt control who enters and leaves Gaza, and it was not immediately clear whether the boat would be permitted to sail.

He said plans were under way for more boats and for a flight into Gaza to break the air blockade.
"We are not going to give details, but preparations are under way," he said.

In the West Bank early Wednesday, Israeli troops killed a 67-year-old farmer in a nighttime raid, Palestinians said.

Taher Abahreh, 40, of the West Bank town of Yamoun, said his father, Muhammad Abahreh, was near a small enclosure outside the town guarding his livestock when he was shot. Troops were unsuccessfully trying to treat his father when he arrived about an hour after neighbors called him and reported hearing gunfire, he said.

The Israeli military said the man opened fire at the soldiers before he was killed. The military said troops found a shotgun on his body and ammunition nearby. Abahreh said his father would not have confronted troops.

Palestinian security officials confirmed Abahreh's account.

One of Muhammad Abahreh's other sons was a Fatah-allied militant who was killed by Israeli troops two years ago.

The Western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, leads a moderate government in the West Bank. But the territory remains under overall Israeli control, and Israeli forces carry out nightly patrols and raids targeting militants.

Abbas' forces have recently been trying to exert more control in towns and cities across the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Palestinian police carried out house-to-house searches in the Fawar refugee camp near Hebron, arresting 28 people, including seven Hamas members, according to Palestinian security officials.