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15 Palestinian fishermen, three internationals seized by Israeli Navy in Gazan waters

Nov. 18, 2008 11:06 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 18, 2008 11:06 A.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - The Israeli navy seized three fishing boats and arrested 15 Palestinian fishermen and three international peace advocates during a major military operation within Gaza's territorial waters on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza said that Andrew Muncie from Scotland, Darlene Wallach from the United States and Vittorio Arrigoni from Italy were taken into Israeli custody along with the fishermen.

The three volunteers were taken to Ben Gurion detention center and are likely to be deported.

Muncie announced on Tuesday evening that he will 'nonviolently resist' deportation and would engage in a hunger strike until the 15 fishermen are released.

According to ISM, the Palestinians were ordered to strip naked and swim to meet the ships. They are being held separately from the international volunteers, in a detention center in the city of Ashdod.

ISM volunteers said that the boats were seven miles off the coast of Gaza, well within the 20-mile Palestinian zone designated by the Oslo agreement and the 12-mile limit set in a 2002 agreement.

The Israeli navy regularly uses water cannons and live ammunition to drive Gazan fishermen away from open waters where they go to catch fish in the Mediterranean. International volunteers have been accompanying boats since August.

Fishermen reported a larger than usual naval presence in coastal waters Tuesday morning, and see the move as a sizeable military operation targeting the international activists. At one point 20 Israeli gunships converged around one fishing vessel.

The activists came into the Gaza Strip three weeks ago on the Free Gaza ship and remained in the area to monitor Israeli violations of their unilateral withdrawal from the area in 2005.

The seizure of international activists, who have been accompanying Gazan fishermen since August when the first Free Gaza ship arrived in the area, comes as Israel imposes a media blackout on Gaza.

Journalists have been denied entry to Gaza since at least 9 November, and several have been encouraged to leave the area. International news services have called the move "unprecedented" and the Federation of Journalists has condemned the action as a violation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

***Updated at 20:10 local time

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