IDF thwarts smuggling activity off Gaza shores

Military says it fired at Palestinian fishing boat loaded with ‘suspicious cases’ which fishermen threw overboard before vessel sank

Palestinian fishing boats are seen at the sea port in Gaza City on April 1, 2016. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian fishing boats are seen at the sea port in Gaza City on April 1, 2016. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The Israeli military on Saturday responded to reports that the Navy fired on a Gaza fishing boat off the shores of the Palestinian enclave, saying the IDF prevented the smuggling of unknown materials from Egypt into Gaza.

According to a report in the Israeli news site Walla, the IDF said it fired warnings shots after the boat, carrying “suspicious cases” according to the military, failed to heed orders to stop. The boat had ventured into a forbidden zone.

The military said Navy forces then fired at the boat, prompting two fishermen to dump the cases overboard and swim away.

According to earlier Palestinian media reports, the Navy fire had caused the boat to sink.

The incident occurred off the coast of Rafah, a Palestinian city near the Egyptian border.

Israel has maintained a naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip since the terror group took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. It allows humanitarian aid into Gaza through Israel’s Ashdod Port, a measure Israel says is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons from overseas.

As part of the blockade, fishing boats and other seagoing vessels are limited to traveling close to the coast.

On Friday, the Palestinian trade union for fishermen said that Israel was to extend the distance off the Gaza Strip coast that some of the Palestinian territory’s fishermen are allowed to operate starting Sunday.

Fishing boats working out of ports in the southern part of the Strip will be allowed up to nine nautical miles off the coast, the chairman of the Gaza fishermen’s union, Nizar Ayyash, said.

He said that the previous six-mile limit would be retained in waters off the north of Gaza which neighbor those of Israel.

COGAT, the Defense Ministry body responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, said on its Facebook page that ahead of the fishing season, the navy “decided to expand fishing south of Wadi Gaza from six to nine miles.”

The wadi, or stream bed, reaches the Mediterranean just south of Gaza City.

COGAT estimated the decision could add NIS 400,000 ($106,000; 93,000 euros) a year to the Gazan economy.

Around 4,000 fishermen work in Gaza, more than half of whom live below the poverty line.

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