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Israel expands Gaza fishing zone after 4 days of curbs due to arson balloons

As quiet holds, military agrees to expand area to 12 nautical miles, reallow import of food, water, medicine, fishing goods, electrical products and agricultural supplies

Palestinian fishermen prepare their nets for fishing in the Mediterranean Sea off Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on September 2, 2020 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian fishermen prepare their nets for fishing in the Mediterranean Sea off Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on September 2, 2020 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel announced on Thursday it would expand the Gaza fishing zone after restricting it for four days in response to the launching of incendiary balloons into Israel from the coastal enclave.

“Following a security assessment and with approval from the political echelon, it was decided to expand the Gaza Strip fishing zone from six to 12 nautical miles, starting Monday morning,” the army’s  Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said in a statement.

COGAT also said that on Sunday, it would start again allowing the entry into Gaza of food, water, medicine, fishing goods, electrical supplies and agricultural products donated by the international community as part of the reconstruction effort for the Strip.

Israeli authorities will also allow the export of scrap metal from Gaza to Israel, COGAT said.

Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip will be allowed to travel abroad via the Allenby crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, subject to the approved criteria, COGAT announced, adding that it would also allow 29 private vehicles that have been stranded at the Erez pedestrian crossing since the May war between Israel and Hamas into the strip.

“The civilian measures approved by the political echelon are conditional on the continued maintenance of security stability in the region,” COGAT said.

Israel has in the past used fishing zone restrictions as a punitive measure against Gaza following attacks or border riots, though critics say the policy is a form of collective punishment borne mostly by people unconnected to the border tensions.

A Hamas security officer checks a truck entering Gaza at the gate of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, June 21, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

On Sunday, Gaza-based terror groups launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel, sparking a number of fires, a Fire and Rescue services investigator determined.

In response to the arson attacks, Israel announced it was cutting the Gaza Strip’s fishing zone in half, from 12 nautical miles to six.  Prior to May’s conflict between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, Palestinian fishermen could operate up to 15 nautical miles from the coast.

In its Sunday statement, COGAT said the attacks were ultimately the responsibility of the Hamas terror group, the de facto ruler of the Strip.

Hamas has warned of a return to fighting should Israel seek to again tighten restrictions on the blockaded Gaza Strip. The coastal enclave has seen tighter controls than usual since the May conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Israel regularly responds with airstrikes against Hamas positions in Gaza. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has repeatedly said that he will respond to balloon attacks with force.

“Israel is interested in calm and has no interest in harming Gaza residents, but violence… will be met with a strong response,” Bennett told the cabinet following the early July strikes.

Israel and Egypt impose tight restrictions on Gaza, which they say are necessary to prevent a greater threat from the Strip’s Hamas rulers. The terror group took over Gaza in a 2007 coup against the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, Hamas plans to escalate the situation on the border if Israel does not allow the passage of Qatari funds into the Gaza Strip by the end of this week, sources in the terror group told a Lebanese newspaper on Thursday.

Hamas security forces in Gaza City stand guard as employees paid by the Palestinian Authority wait to receive their salaries outside a closed bank, on Thursday, June 5, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The source told the Al Akhbar newspaper that if there are no changes to the current situation regarding the entry of money and goods to the enclave, it may push some Gaza terror factions to launch rockets at southern Israel.

In June, a similar threat was conveyed via the Lebanese paper, which apparently resulted in the resumption of incendiary balloon attacks.

With Israel’s approval, Qatar has in recent years distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to enable Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, pay civil servants’ salaries, and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.

An official familiar with the negotiations told The Times of Israel this month that Israel had notified Egyptian mediators that it will no longer allow the entrance of unmonitored Qatari cash into the Strip, as had previously been done.

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