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Tens of Palestinians dead or missing after migrant boat sinks off Egypt

15 drowned as boat carrying mostly Palestinian migrants sinks off Alexandria coast after hitting underwater rock
Italian officials with migrants picked up off the Italian coast (AFP)

At least 15 Palestinians were killed on Saturday night when the boat they were travelling in sank off the coast of Egypt.

72 others were rescued by the Egyptian coastguard off the coast of Alexandria in north-central Egypt.

The passengers had been aiming to reach the shores of Italy, a common destination for people attempting to cross over into Europe.

Egyptian authorities have yet to give a statement on the case, but the victims’ families told local newspaper al-Quds that they had received phone calls from Egyptian officials, informing them of the deaths late on Saturday.

According to the families, the search and rescue mission continues for some of the passengers, including an unknown number of children who were on board.

The boat is thought to have been carrying around 160 people.

A source told Anadolu Agency that all the Palestinians travelling on the boat had been from the south of the Gaza Strip, specifically from Khan Younes and Rafah, two towns that saw huge amounts of destruction during the recent 51-day Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

The boat was also carrying Syrian and Egyptian nationals, according to al-Quds, but no details have yet emerged as to what has happened to them.

Dozens of Palestinians have recently crossed over the border into Egypt by way of underground tunnels, in the hope of migrating to Europe by sea, according to a well-placed source who spoke to Anadolu.

Arrivals of migrants to Italy by boat in the first half of 2014 shot up by 500 percent compared with the same period in 2013, topping a 2011 record set during the outset of the Arab Spring.

In August seven people were arrested on suspicion of people trafficking, after one of the group allegedly took a “selfie” while on a boat packed with over 440 people trying to get to Italy by sea.

The migrants had paid around $1m altogether, according to Italian news site Ansa, and included some 100 Palestinians attempting to flee the bloody war in Gaza.