Israel reduces Gaza fishing zone again in response to balloon attacks

Boats from coastal enclave limited to 10 nautical miles from coast, three days after permitted area had been increased

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’s military liaison to the Palestinians announced Wednesday that Israel was reducing the fishing zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip by a third, to just 10 nautical miles, in response to a rash of balloons carrying incendiaries from the Palestinian enclave that have caused fires in border areas.

Israel has adjusted the size of the fishing zone several times recently, rewarding calm along the border by expanding the fishing zone, then reducing it following balloon attacks — apparently under the terms of an unacknowledged ceasefire agreement with the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

Wednesday’s announcement by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said the restriction would remain in place until further notice.

On Tuesday there were two fires in the Be’eri Forest due to balloons, the Ynet news site reported. There were no injuries in blazes. Since last March, airborne incendiaries from Gaza have caused fires that burned thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves in Israel, causing millions of shekels’ worth of damage.

The fishing clampdown came just three days after Israel increased the fishing zone to 15 miles, in what COGAT said at the time was “part of the civil policy of preventing humanitarian deterioration in the Gaza Strip.”

Israel announced Saturday night that, as of Sunday, the fishing zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip would be expanded to 15 nautical miles (27.8 kilometers), four days after it had been reduced to 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers) amid an earlier rash of incendiary balloon attacks from the coastal Palestinian territory.

The attacks that prompted the reduction appeared to violate the reported terms of the truce.

Recent weeks have seen tensions in the Gaza Strip soar, following a massive two-day flareup earlier this month between Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave.

According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the agreement that ended that flareup included a Hamas obligation to halt violent incidents along the border fence, maintaining a buffer zone 300 meters from the border; an end to the launching of incendiary balloons at Israeli communities and nighttime clashes between Gazans and security forces; and a stop to flotillas trying to break through the maritime border between Gaza and Israel.

In return, Israel reportedly agreed to expand the fishing zone, enable United Nations cash-for-work programs, allow medicine and other civil aid to enter the Strip, and open negotiations on matters relating to electricity, crossings, healthcare and funds.

Since March 30, 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have participated in regular protests along the border, demanding Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of the Jewish state.

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