Three human rights observers (HROs) accompanied a fleet of four Palestinian fishing boats, as they left the port in Gaza this morning at 07:00.
By 08:15 the fishing boats were proceeding in a southerly direction, 8 nautical miles from the Gazan coast. At this point, an Israeli naval gunboat approached the fishing boats, and began to circle them. A loud explosion was heard, the cause of which is unknown. A HRO close to the gunboat at this time reports that the sound of the explosion was consistent with her previous experience of the Israeli Navy throwing explosive charges into the water next to fishing boats. The gunboat continued circling the fishing fleet for several minutes, as a soldier fired several bursts from a deck mounted heavy machine in their general direction.
At around 09:30, the large Israeli vessel with a high powered water cannon approached. Over the next two and a half hours it fired the water cannon at each of the fishing boats in turn, for long periods. As a result, the fishing boats were incapable of maneuvering properly, and the nets of two of the boats became entangled. One of the fishermen had to dive into the water to attempt to separate them, once the water cannon boat had ceased its assault. One of the HROs whose body was hit directly by the water cannon reports in a text message (at the time of writing, he remains at sea) that he is "OK but body aching like being beaten".
As these attacks were taking place, an Israeli Navy spokesperson – Captain Benjamin Rutland – explained on BBC Radio that the water cannon is powerful enough to cause damage to the fishing boats themselves;
"…it may cause damage to a boat…"
Somewhat paradoxically however he then went on to say that the use of such a high powered weapon
"…minimizes injuries to Palestinian fishermen."
"Captain Rutland didn’t say what precise level of injury the Israeli Navy considers itself justified in inflicting on these civilians on (what is now becoming) a daily basis."