On August 31st, the Israeli navy attacked a Palestinian fishing trawler with what is reported to have been shelling, causing the boat to light afire. At the time of the attack, the fishermen were in waters near the north of Gaza.
The Palestinian fishermen say that they were within the (arbitrarily-imposed by Israel, solely at Israeli authorities’ whim) new 3 mile fishing limit (although under Oslo, they have the right to venture 20 miles out). Israeli authorities said that the boat had entered Israeli waters.
Israeli authorities also reportedly say that Palestinian fishermen ignored warning shots and orders to turn back. The same Ynet report quotes Israeli authorities as saying “the Israeli navy helped put out the fire on the fishing boat.”
They weren’t very successful:
Another report quotes Israeli authorities as saying the boat caught fire “most likely because of flammable materials on board.”
I was, however, called at 8:47 am by a volunteer in the Emergency Services in Beit Lahia/Jabaliya region, saying that a Palestinian boat had been hit by Israeli naval shelling, was on fire, and that the Israeli naval boat remained in the vicinity. He certainly did not mention the Israeli navy coming to the assistance of the reported 5 or 6 fishermen on board.
Later, speaking with a fisherman who had been on another boat in the same area at the time, he mentioned that the Israeli naval boat had first opened fire on a different Palestinian boat. When that boat apparently fled the area, the Israeli naval boat soldiers turned their attention to the boat which was subsequently shelled and burst into flames.
By the time my colleague and I were able to start out for the north from Gaza city, the damaged and flaming fishing boat was being helped back to the Gaza port, in a convoy of smaller fishing boats.
Upon arrival at the Gaza port, I saw that the rescue services were already battling the flames, putting them out as the Israeli authorities are reported to have said they had helped to do.
It took between 20 and 30 minutes to smother the flames. The rescuers used a hose which pumped sea water; the pumped worked on a small generator, which had to be lugged from spot to spot depending on where they were fighting fire.
The boat’s fishermen staff, along with fishermen at the port, worked together to halt the fire and stop it from spreading to the fuel tank, a disaster barely missed by the initial Israeli naval shelling.
The heat was intense, the smoke thick and choking. Many of the firefighters wore oxygen masks, but the fishermen, including those who had endured the shelling attack, had no protection but continued to work at putting the flames out.
The boat is completely destroyed, the owner has said. Apparently 18 fishermen on different days work on this boat. That’s 18 breadwinners out of a work which was just helping their families get by.
More first-hand information from the fishermen themselves to come, but for now these images tell a fairly clear story:
*above photo (Reuters): fighting the fire