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Israeli War Criminals Close Gaza Crossings After Brief Opening, Claim Easing Restrictions on Nablus Travel, Boat Dignity Departs Besieged Gaza

Israel suddenly closes Karni crossing after only eight trucks unload goods

Date: 12 / 12 / 2008  Time:  14:12
Gaza – Ma’an –

The Karni crossing point was suddenly closed Friday for “security reasons,” after only a fraction of the 110 trucks of goods slated for entry into the strip were permitted to unload their cargo.

Head of the coordination committee responsible for goods entering Gaza Raed Fattuh said only 43 truckloads of goods were scheduled to enter the Strip through Karni on Friday, and that only eight loads actually passed into Gaza.

Fattuh confirmed that another fifty truck loads entered through Karem Shalom crossing, 35kilometers south of Karni near Rafah.

Free Gaza ship departs with 11 students denied exit by Israel

Date: 12 / 12 / 2008  Time:  10:39
Bethlehem - Ma'an -

A ship with the Free Gaza movement left the Strip late Thursday night with 11 Palestinian students aboard.

The students had previously been denied exit by Israel to attend universities abroad despite having all proper documentation from the institutions.

Over 700 students are currently trapped in Gaza, unable to obtain permission from Israel to continue their education abroad, according to the group.

Accompanying the students were two British academics, Jonathan Rosenhead and Mike Cushman, of the London School of Economics and the British Committee for Universities for Palestine (BRICUP), an organization of UK-based educators that calls for an academic boycott of Israel.

"As academics, we are particularly pleased to be traveling on the Dignity [the ship of the Free Gaza movement] on this mission to enable at least some of the hundreds of students trapped in Gaza by the Israeli siege to get out and take up their places at universities around the world," said a statement released by the group.

"This siege is an affront to any idea of academic freedom or human rights. How can anyone justify preventing young people from fulfilling their potential and learning how to serve their community more fully?" it continued.

In an act of "nonviolent defiance" against the ongoing Israeli occupation, the Free Gaza movement has been running "civil resistance ships" to Gaza since August.

The Dignity's voyage is the fourth such trip, and aimed to reunite families and deliver medical supplies, mail, and international humanitarian and human rights workers to the Gaza Strip.

Free Gaza spokesperson Ewa Jasiewicz said "though we carried in a ton of medical supplies and high-protein baby formula on our ship, our mission in Gaza was not to provide charity, but to give our solidarity to the people of Palestine, break the silence of the world over this continuing calamity, and physically break through the blockade of Gaza in an act of direct resistance against the siege."

"In the end, the oppression and humiliation of occupation assaults the humanity of both occupier and occupied and cannot and must not be tolerated any longer," Jasiewicz added.

For over two years, Israel has imposed an increasingly severe blockade on Gaza, dramatically increasing poverty and malnutrition rates among the 1.5 million people who live in the tiny, coastal region.

Osama Qashoo, another Free Gaza spokesperson, explained their voyage's success by saying that "the sea passage to Gaza is open." Three ships, one from Libya, one from Qatar, and a third from the Israeli Jaffa port were denied entry into Gaza just over a week ago.

Commenting on the Israeli action taken against the ships, Qashoo said "Our fourth mission was a quick response to Israel denying earlier attempts,” and an effort to maintain the opening the group had managed to force in Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

"We hope that other nations, civil society organizations, and activists around the world will learn from our experience, be strategic in their planning, and not let Israeli threats and aggression stop them from coming to Gaza," said the Free Gaza Movement.

"Freedom of movement and of education and to live in peace is everyone's right," the group added.

According to Caoimhe Butterly, a Free Gaza coordinator, the ship faced no interference or radio contact from the Israeli navy on its way into and out of Gaza waters. She did note, however, that the ship’s radar showed naval vessels passing within a few miles of the vessel.

Asked why the Free Gaza ship was allowed through while others were blocked, Butterly said it was a sign that Israel “does not see this project as a threat.”

***Updated 13:43 Bethlehem time

Israeli stranglehold on Nablus claimed to to loosen, more restrictions set to be eased

Date: 12 / 12 / 2008  Time:  15:23
Bethlehem – Ma’an –

Nablus residents show reserved optimism as Israeli travel restrictions to the northern West Bank ease after years of pleading from the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Nablus suffered a slow strangulation since 2001; labeled by Israeli TV as the “City of Suicide Bombers,” for seven years the Israeli army made almost nightly incursions.

Roads into the city were blocked to all but those with special permits, and no Nablus resident with a car has been able to drive to Ramallah on the main road since the Huwwara, Awarta, At-Tur, Beit Furik, Asira Ash-Shamalia, Beit Iba and Shave Shomeron checkpoints were installed.

Once the financial capital of the country housing the Palestinian stock market and over a third of West Bank residents; the Israeli military presence and enforced closure of the city and stifled its growth.

Trade, commerce and Nablus’ once growing export markets closed. Businesses went under, and peoples’ lives became miserable. The installation of Huwwara checkpoint was a curse on northern West Bankers, and signaled the start of a rapid deterioration in quality of life. Even those traveling for medical care into the once bustling city were denied access without proper documentation.

Since Eid began on 8 December, all this changed. Palestinians over 50 were able to drive their cars into Nablus, and Palestinians living in Israel were for the second time this year allowed to visit relatives or go shopping in the city without first getting a permit.

Merchants in the city have seen sales increase, there is more traffic on the roads, and a cautious optimism is palpable in the streets.

And according to Palestinian Chief of Civil Affairs in the Palestinian Authority (PA) Hussein Ash-Sheikh, more changes are on their way. In the coming weeks Nablus residents with registered vehicles will be able to drive to Salfit, Tubas or Qalquilia, and on any of the roads open to Palestinian traffic.

Ash-Sheikh said the changes were the result of years of lobbying on the part of the PA with Israeli authorities.

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