Hamas is trying to deflect the growing internal criticism within the Gaza Strip over the flight of Gazans via the sea to Europe – and is instead blaming Israel.
It is impossible to present the emigration as willful and it is a coerced step against the Palestinian people, said senior Hamas official Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil at a press conference in Gaza on Sunday. The main causes of the emigration are the occupation and blockade that Israel has placed on the Palestinians, Al-Bardawil added.
In recent days, Hamas spokesmen have said the number of people who have fled Gaza is limited and marginal. Hamas claims that most of those fleeing by boat where already residing in Egypt. But the criticism inside the Gaza Strip has increased recently, partly because of the helplessness both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority displayed last week after a boat filled with Gazan refugees sunk near Malta.
Hamas also reported arrests of the smugglers in Gaza and warned the public against falling into the trap of the smuggling rings that promise a glorious future and good paying jobs to those who leave. Hamas also called for heavy punishments on those involved in the smuggling, as a deterrent measure.
The story of one of the survivors from the sinking of the boat near Malta was published Monday. Khamees Beraikh, a Gaza resident who was on the boat, said he lasted for two days in the water before he was noticed by sailors and picked up by a passing cargo ship. He said he saw the bodies of women and children all around, but luckily the cargo ship passed by and he was brought to a hospital in Italy. He said he still does not know what will happen to him, and is being held by Italian authorities as a witness in Sicily for now.
The boat held some 400 to 450 Palestinians, about 100 of whom were women and children, said the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights nonprofit organization based in Gaza and Geneva. They paid $2,000-$4,000 for safe passage from Egypt to Italy. Only eight people survived: five Palestinians from Gaza, one Egyptian and two Syrians (a 19-year-old female and a child).
Euro-Mid released a report on the sinking on Sunday, and said that after four days at sea the smugglers told the passengers to move to smaller boats, but they were rickety and there was not enough room for everyone. After 10 minutes of arguing, an Egyptian boat appeared and rammed the ship, causing it to sink.
Euro-Mid said Italian authorities have opened a criminal investigation against the smugglers on charges of premeditated murder. The ship left the Egyptian port of Damietta near Alexandria on September 9 and sank four days later.
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