IDF warns Gaza fishermen Hamas is exploiting them

Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, army’s liaison to Palestinians, notes easing of blockade led to 50% increase in profits for fishermen, warns restrictions could return with violence

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

Israel’s chief military liaison to the Palestinians released an Arabic-language Facebook video Friday warning Gazan fishermen they were being exploited by Hamas following a recent protest in which Palestinian boats sailed up to the maritime boundary between Israel and the coastal enclave.

Israel will “not ignore the provocations in the maritime area,” and will “act with resolve against those who disturb the peace,” Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, the IDF’s coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), says in the video.

The message comes in response to recent protests on the coast, in addition to the months-long riots and protests along the land border with Israel that began in March.

On Monday, thousands gathered on Gaza’s Mediterranean beach near the fence separating the territory from Israel. Some activists sailed in small fishing boats near the fence, flying the Palestinian flag. Israeli naval gunboats shot around the Palestinian boats.

Turning to Gazans in the video, Abu Rokon says he wishes to “present to you the full picture with regard to what is taking place on the beaches of Gaza.”

IDF Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon addresses the fishermen of Gaza in a Facebook video on September 21, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook)

He noted Israel’s easing of its naval blockade to allow a larger fishing zone for Gaza’s fishermen.

“Recently, we announced on the ‘el-Munasek’ Facebook page the expansion of the fishing zone from five kilometers (three miles) to 14.5 kilometers (nine miles),” he said. “The expansion of the fishing zone serves over 250,000 people who rely on this important economic sector for their livelihoods.”

As a result of the expansion, “the fishing sector has experienced a 50 percent increase in profits compared to the period of time prior to the expansion,” he said. “The change has also led to a dramatic jump in the quantity of fish being marketed, and a corresponding 50% decrease in fish prices” in Gaza.

But he warned that the Hamas terror group which controls the coastal enclave and which openly calls for Israel’s destruction, posed a danger to the increased prosperity.

“However, along with the positive developments in the fishing sector there exists a significant danger: the Hamas terror organization is exploiting the fishermen of Gaza who are simply working to make a living, and is forcing them to participate in the provocations and disturbances of the peace taking place in the maritime area,” he said.

“I want to deliver a clear and direct message: we will not ignore the provocations in the maritime area. We will act with resolve against those who disturb the peace in the maritime area as well, and if the situation continues as is, we will shrink the fishing zone back to three miles.”

He called on the people of Gaza to avoid conflict in order to improve their economic prosperity.

“The full picture is very clear: The disturbances of the peace in the Gaza maritime area that are being encouraged by Hamas are liable to cause serious damage to the livelihoods of Gazan fishermen, and the benefits they bring to the residents of Gaza,” he said. “Rather than lend a hand to this blatant provocation, let’s maintain the stable security that allows for Palestinian economic development in the Gaza Strip.”

Violence has continued along the Gaza border despite talk in recent weeks of efforts to reach a truce between Israel and Hamas.

Palestinians protest to demand the lift of the Israeli blockade on Gaza on a beach in Beit Lahia near the maritime border with Israel, on September 10, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

The Hamas-run health ministry in the coastal enclave said two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in clashes along the border Tuesday evening.

The two men were killed during protests near the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel, the scene of regular confrontation between stone-throwing youths and Israeli soldiers in recent months.

The clashes came after two Gazans were reported killed in an Israeli strike near the border fence with the enclave.

The IDF said Monday night that its aircraft targeted Palestinians who approached the fence and placed what the military said was a suspicious object at the site.

Twenty-six protesters were wounded by Israeli army fire during the protest, according to Gazan health officials.

Israeli fire has killed at least 131 Palestinians during the protests which began in late March. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.

Israel says its actions — and in particular the use of live ammunition — are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the territory. Israel has accused the Hamas terror group of encouraging the protests and using them as cover to attempt to carry out terror attacks, including firing at troops and attempting to breach the border fence.

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