Breaking the Blockade: Israel stops pro-Palestinian ship as Qatar plans to help Gaza
As Israel stops another pro-Palestinian ship carrying humanitarian cargo for Gaza on Saturday, Qatari and Palestinian officials said that their Gulf state will start to channel goods and materials to rebuild Israeli-blockaded Gaza via neighboring Egypt.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi and the Hamas premier Ismail Haniya, whose movement rules the Gaza Strip, discussed the project in a telephone call, the Palestinian leader's spokesman Taher al-Nunu said.
“The blockage of construction materials and equipment for reconstruction projects in Gaza has been completely lifted. That’s what we were informed by the Egyptian president,” Qatar’s ambassador, Mohammed al-Emadi, told AFP.
He said that the materials would enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
On September 25, the ambassador announced that Qatar was to invest $254 million in Gaza, mostly to build roads, for housing, infrastructure projects and agricultural development.
The announcement is considered to be a policy change by Egypt.
Egypt has aided Israel to impose a full border closure of Gaza by air, land and sea after Hamas took over the strip and drove out forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel eased its restrictions after its raid of a Turkish-led blockade-busting flotilla in 2010 left nine activists dead and sparked international condemnation. An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that Israel’s Gaza blockade was legal but faulted the navy for excessive force.
Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza’s 1.6 million residents and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea.
Israel seizes pro-Palestine ship
Meanwhile, the Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship in the Mediterranean sea on Saturday to prevent it breaching its blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.
She said no one was hurt when marines boarded the SV Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was rerouted to Israel’s southern port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave.
The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement, and goodwill items such as children’s books, a mission spokesman said earlier on Saturday.
Six Israeli naval vessels have stopped the Estelle as it was about 30 nautical miles from Gaza, with masked soldiers boarding the ship and ordering it to sail to Israel’s Ashdod port, said a Victoria Strand, a spokeswoman for the activists.
The Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged ship left Naples, Italy, on Oct. 7 with about 30 people from eight countries on board, including lawmakers from Norway, Sweden, Greece and Spain, as well as Israeli activists and a 79-year-old former legislator from Canada.
Still, Israel continues to block sea access to Gaza and severely restricts its ability to export goods and import raw materials.