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Israeli helicopters and navy continue to fire on Gaza’s port

The shelling of Gaza’s port continued on the evening of December 30th, as Israeli Apache helicopters began firing rockets on the area and Naval vessels continued their ongoing shelling.

Eva Bartlett, a Canadian human rights worker, heard and witnessed the attack from a building 150 meters away. She reports that the first explosion began at 9:18 pm. For the next half hour, the Naval ships and Apache helicopters continued firing intermittently. At 9:57, the intensity of the attack increased and more than 15 shells and rockets were fired in quick succession, with the Apaches specifically targeting the landing dock and the breakwater. Eyewitnesses in the area report that a Port Authority office and a boat anchored in the port were destroyed. The rockets and shelling continued into the night, while Israeli drones could also be heard circling overhead.

Gaza city port, the only port for the whole of the Gaza strip, houses a large number of Palestinian fishing boats on its piers. Many of these boats have also undoubtedly been damaged in the heavy shelling, further destabilizing the already fragile fishing industry upon which Gazans have been heavily reliant since Israel imposed its blockade on the strip in June 2007. The extent of the damage, however, is at this time indeterminable, as the continued presence of the warships in the harbor makes any assessment impossible.

This is the second time that Gaza’s port has been destroyed by Israeli bombing since construction began in 1999. Israeli Navy warships previously bombed the port in 2002, under the pretext that it could be utilized for arms smuggling. Repairs on the port were agreed upon in negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2005, after illegal Israeli settlements were withdrawn from Gaza, with the hope that an open sea port would not only provide a much-needed boost to Gaza’s economy, but would also function as an important symbol of Palestinian independence.

The Palestinian dream for the port – an independent harbour that would enable Gazan’s to freely import and export, creating jobs and freedom from Israel’s control of all Gazan borders – was, however, never realized. Whilst the port was repaired, Israel’s illegal control of Gazan waters continued unabated; illegally preventing Gazan boats, including fishermen, from venturing farther than 6 miles from shore, maintaining the imprisonment of Gaza. This oft-denied Israeli policy was exemplified most recently on Monday 29th December, when the Israeli Navy attacked the Free Gaza boat, “The Dignity”, in international waters as it attempted to carry 3 tonnes of desperately-needed medical aid into Gaza’s now-ruined port.

The destruction of the port has rendered humanitarian missions such as these even more difficult. Should further boats manage break the Israeli blockade, there is now nowhere left to unload