Israel to expand Gaza sailing zone for spring fishing season

Fishermen in southern Strip allowed to travel up to nine nautical miles from the shore, up from the usual six

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Gaza fishermen as they start fishing off the coast of the Gaza Strip on April 3, 2016. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Gaza fishermen as they start fishing off the coast of the Gaza Strip on April 3, 2016. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Israel on Tuesday announced that it would be expanding the permitted Gaza sailing zone for the three-month spring fishing season.

Ordinarily, Israel allows Gazan fishermen to operate up to six nautical miles (seven miles) from the coast. Beginning on Tuesday, Palestinian sailors in the southern Gaza Strip will be allowed to travel up to nine nautical miles (10.4 miles) from the shore, the army said.

There will be no change for fishermen in the northern Gaza Strip.

Though it does not necessarily occur every spring and fall, Israel has regularly expanded the permitted sailing zone during the peak fishing season in recent years.

The announcement came amid increased tensions in the coastal enclave, as Palestinians there have held daily demonstrations along the border. These have often deteriorated to violence, with rioters throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops on the other side of the security fence and the soldiers responding with tear gas and, at times, live fire.

The expansion was scheduled to remain in place until June, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. (Screenshot)

The move was approved by military liaison to the Palestinians Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Israel Navy commander Maj. Gen. Eli Sharvit, and the head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, the army said.

Israeli officials from the Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories liaison unit, along with naval officials, met with representatives from the Gaza fishing industry and Palestinian Agricultural Ministry ahead of time in order to discuss the plans and ensure that Gazan fishermen do not stray from the approved zone.

Fishing serves as a significant source of income for thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates.

The military noted that the expansion of the zone for the fall season had increased the fishing yields and lowered the price of seafood in the Gaza Strip.

“This step is part of the civil policy of preventing a humanitarian deterioration in the Gaza Strip and part of the policy of differentiating between terror and the rest of the population,” the army said.

The military said this expansion would only remain in place if Gaza fishermen “respected the agreements.”

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Gazan fishermen were allowed to operate up to 20 nautical miles (23 miles) from the coast. Israel scaled that back considerably once the Hamas terrorist group came to power in 2006.

Israel and Egypt maintain a strict naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel says this is to prevent Hamas and other terrorist group from smuggling weapons into the coastal enclave, as has been attempted many times over the years.

The announcement came less than a week after Israeli security officials revealed that they had thwarted a planned naval attack off the Gaza coast by the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

The plan was to use three fishing boats to lure in a navy ship, fire a missile at it, and then seize the wounded and slain soldiers, according to a joint statement by the Shin Bet security service and IDF.

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