A Palestinian group in Syria said Sunday that over 200 Palestinians were aboard a boat which capsized off Malta’s coast on Friday.
The Action Group for Palestinians in Syria said that at least 200 Palestinian refugees fleeing conflict in the country were aboard the boat, which left the Libyan port of Zwara on Thursday.
Some 70 Palestinian refugees survived the shipwreck and are now in Malta, with the rest unaccounted for, the action group said.
The boat was carrying up to 400 migrants, mostly Syrians.
At least 33 people perished after the boat sank on Friday, a week after another shipwreck off Italy left at least 359 dead, prompting Malta to warn that the Mediterranean was becoming “a cemetery.”
Some of the 206 known survivors of the shipwreck said Libyan militiamen shot wildly at them, leaving several people dead and causing the vessel to take on water and sink.
Citing survivors’ accounts, the UN refugee agency spoke of several injured passengers, saying shots were fired “perhaps by militiamen who shot to kill.”
Molhake al-Roarsan, 22, interviewed by Italy’s La Stampa daily, said three people had bullet wounds in the arms and legs.
He said he thought the attacks were related to a dispute between different groups of human traffickers.
“There was a furious fight, screaming on the radio and on the phone with someone who demanded that we return to land, but the captain did not stop.”
Media reports said a new rescue operation was launched Sunday, with a navy and a coastguard ship heading out to pick up 400 migrants who sent out a distress call.
Twin tragedies in the Mediterranean just days apart have prompted the European Union to call for sea patrols to cope with the flood of migrants knocking on its doors.
Italy has appealed to fellow EU states for help in managing the crisis and wants migration to be put on the agenda of summit talks in Brussels later this month.
According to UNHCR estimates, some 32,000 migrants have arrived in Malta and Italy this year.
Some 250,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to leave their refugee camps in Syria due to violence in the country.
A staggering 6.2 million Syrians have been torn from their homes — a number without parallel in any other country and representing nearly a third of Syria’s pre-war population of 20.8 million.
In September 2012, at least 61 migrants, including Palestinians and Syrians, more than half of them children, died after their overcrowded boat sank just tens of meters off Turkey’s western Aegean coast.
(Ma’an – www.maannews.net)