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Israel reopens Gaza fishing zone after quiet night on the border

Military liaison to the Palestinians says move is conditional on calm persisting, comes hours before PA due to decide if elections will be held

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Palestinian fishermen take to the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza City on June 18, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinian fishermen take to the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza City on June 18, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israel announced on Thursday it was fully reopening the Gaza fishing zone after three days of closure, following a relatively calm night along the border.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians — known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) — said the fishing zone would be opened to its full 15 nautical mile (27.8 kilometer) limit.

“The return of this civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip is conditional upon continued calm and security stability,” COGAT said in a statement.

Israel announced it was closing the fishing zone on Monday morning following days of attacks from the Strip in which dozens of rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel.

Men stand in front of a building baring traces of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in the kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel, adjacent to the Palestinian enclave, on April 24, 2021 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Two mortar shells were fired toward Israel on Tuesday night, but they failed to clear the border and landed inside the Gaza Strip. No attacks took place on Wednesday night, though dozens of Palestinians rioted near the border.

Israel’s decision to reopen the fishing zone came hours before the Palestinian Authority was due to announce whether or not it would be holding elections in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli military fears that a cancellation of the election, which the PA would likely blame on Israel’s refusal to allow polls in East Jerusalem, could lead to a large outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

Since Friday night, terror groups in the Strip have fired nearly 50 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel. Most of these have landed in open fields where they caused no injury or damage, but a few struck inside Israeli communities with shrapnel hitting buildings and vehicles. No Israelis have been injured directly by the rockets or shells, but a number of people were hurt while running to bomb shelters or required medical assistance after suffering acute panic attacks from the sirens.

The terror groups in Gaza who launched the rockets said the attacks were in response to unrest in Jerusalem, both between far-right Israeli nationalists and Arab residents of the city and between Arab Jerusalemites and Israeli police.

Israeli police officers stand near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In an apparent bid to end this round of violence quickly, the Israeli military has largely refrained from carrying out retaliatory airstrikes on terror groups’ sites in response to these attacks. Instead, on Monday, Israel opted for what is widely seen as a form of collective punishment in shuttering the fishing zone.

Fishing is a significant source of revenue for the beleaguered enclave. The size of the fishing zone has varied over the years. It was set at 20 nautical miles by the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s before being reduced to six miles under the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after the terror group Hamas took over the Strip in a violent coup against the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Israel has raised and lowered the limit several times in recent years in a bid to pressure Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip.

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