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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 20:28 GMT 21:28 UK
Gaza boats mass to mark pullout
Palestinian flags fly on fishing boats on the shore of Gaza city
The rally of boats was called 'Setting sail for freedom'
Thousands of Palestinians have held a fishing boat rally in the harbour of Gaza City to celebrate the imminent withdrawal of Israeli settlers.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told the crowds that the moment marked a step towards an independent state.

All 8,000 Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip, and hundreds in the West Bank, are preparing for evacuation.

"Today, our march to freedom begins. Tomorrow, it will be Jenin's turn and after that Jerusalem," Mr Abbas said.

Residents are due to start moving out of their homes in the Gaza Strip on Monday.

Boats

People gathered in the harbour wore T-shirts supporting calls for Palestinian rule, as flags fluttered from the fishing vessels.

"From here, our people begin the march towards establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," Mr Abbas said.

The crowd cheered Mr Abbas' popular name in reply: "Abu Mazen, Abu Mazen" as lines of fishermen watched from boats in the water.

Israel, worried about arms reaching militant groups in Gaza, has imposed heavy restrictions on the fishermen.

Mr Abbas told them that soon they would be able to fish the along the length of Gaza's coastline.

"We have been waiting for this minute for ages," Rabiya Hissi, the wife of a fisherman, told the Associated Press news agency.

"We have been waiting for joy and peace in our streets instead of blood and fear."




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