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'Ark' loaded with Gaza exports to set sail in 2013

Nov. 2, 2012 5:34 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 5, 2012 12:33 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The first siege-breaking ship to originate inside Gaza is set to depart for an early 2013 voyage to take goods to international markets, a Red Crescent official said Friday.

Muna al-Farra says the "Gaza Ark" aims to break the Israeli blockade with help from French and Canadian activists in partnership with Palestinian activists and traders.

The ship will have 13 activists on board with an undetermined number of Palestinian traders. The voyage is expected to depart in the first months of 2013, al-Farra said.

Organizers expect to load agricultural products onto the ship after coordinating with foreign ports. The ship will also accompany Palestinian fishermen to protect them from Israeli gunboats.

Late last month the Israeli navy boarded a Finnish ship attempting to break the sea blockade and deliver aid. The cargo included cement, wheel chairs, crutches, musical instruments and toys.

Activists have mounted several other attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, including one in May 2010 when marines killed nine activists.

Israel loosened its siege after the bloodshed sparked international outrage, but it has only allowed a trickle of exports to leave the coastal enclave.

Exports ban

The ban on exports is the most damaging restriction holding back Gaza's economy. Experts say its private sector will not recover until access to traditional markets is restored.

The few products allowed to leave are generally only sent to foreign markets and not the West Bank. In March, Israel allowed a shipment of date bars to be sent to the West Bank.

In September an Israeli official said Israel would soon allow furniture and clothes to be exported to the West Bank, after allowing certain products to leave for Europe in May.

Israel tightened restrictions on Gaza after Hamas won elections in 2006 and imposed a crippling siege in the aftermath of Fatah's ouster in the summer of 2007 and a 2008-2009 invasion.
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