Israel cuts back Gaza fishing zone following incendiary balloon launches

Restricted area back down to 10 nautical miles one day after being expanded to 15 miles; Gaza-based official says fisherman should not be punished for crimes of arsonists

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian fishing boats are seen in the Mediterranean Sea at the port in Gaza City on May 10, 2019. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Palestinian fishing boats are seen in the Mediterranean Sea at the port in Gaza City on May 10, 2019. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Israel restricted the permitted fishing zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in response to incendiary balloons that Palestinians in the coastal enclave shot off into the Jewish state on Tuesday, an Israeli official said on Thursday.

Israeli authorities reduced the fishing zone from 15 nautical miles (27.8 kilometers) off the coast to 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers), said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Saleh al-Ziq, a senior Gaza-based official in the PA Civil Affairs Commission, confirmed that Israel cut back the fishing zone.

The reduction of the fishing area came a day after Israel had increased it from 10 nautical miles to 15.

After expanding the fishing zone to 15 nautical miles in April for the first time in years, Israel has reduced it on several occasions for short periods of time following launches of flaming balloons from Gaza that have landed in the Jewish state.

Palestinian fishermen unload their catch after a night fishing trip, in the Gaza Seaport on April 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Four incendiary balloons that emanated from the coastal enclave on Tuesday caused small fires in southern Israel, according Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Eli Cohen.

No arson balloons landed in Israel on Wednesday or Thursday, Cohen said.

Ziq criticized Israel for reducing the fishing zone, contending that fishermen should not pay a price for those launching balloons.

“Fishing is very important to the livelihood of many people in Gaza. The fishermen use the income they make from selling fish to provide for their family members,” he said. “Why is Israel punishing them for something they did not do?”

There are 3,700 fishermen in Gaza, almost all of whom live below the poverty level, a 2019 report by the B’Tselem human rights group said.

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