Boat from Gaza challenges Israeli blockade

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A boat carrying wounded Palestinians left from a Gaza port Tuesday in a bid to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-run enclave.

Hundreds of people gathered to see off the boat carrying nine passengers, including four people said to have been wounded by Israeli soldiers along with students.

The passengers “with specific needs are prevented from traveling, receiving care and finishing their studies,” said organizer Raed Abu Dair.

“We are determined to break the blockade.”

Mahmoud Abu Ataya, 25, who recently suffered a leg wound east of Gaza City, said: “I am leaving to be cared for abroad.”

A similar attempt was made in May and resulted in Israeli forces seizing the main protest boat several kilometers out to sea.

Israel’s blockade restricts Gazan boats to up to six nautical miles off the enclave.

Israel and the Hamas movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, have fought three wars since 2008.

U.N. officials and rights activists have repeatedly called for Israel to lift the blockade, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Israel says it is necessary to stop Hamas and other groups in Gaza from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

On Monday, Israel also closed its only goods crossing with the Gaza Strip in response to weeks of fires at farms caused by kites and balloons carrying firebombs from the Palestinian enclave.

A spokesman for Israel’s fire service says 750 fires have burned 2,600 hectares, putting the damage at millions of shekels (hundreds of thousands of dollars).

Gazans began launching the kites as part of protests along the border calling for Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes now inside Israel.

Since protests and clashes broke out along the Gaza border on March 30, at least 139 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire and more than 4,000 have been wounded by gunfire.

The majority were involved in protests and clashes, but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.