Israel to reopen Gaza fishing zone as calm returns to border

Qatari official said slated to visit Strip in coming days to coordinate cash transfer as Israel makes moves to implement reported ceasefire deal after latest bout of violence

A general view of the fishing port in Gaza City, on May 5, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
A general view of the fishing port in Gaza City, on May 5, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel was set to begin easing restrictions on the Gaza Strip Friday, a week after deadly clashes broke out in the border region, pumping up fears of all-out war.

Israel is set to reopen a 12 nautical mile fishing zone off the coast of the Strip, after it was closed amid heavy fighting over the past weekend, authorities said.

Israel also opened crossings into and out of the Strip at midnight Thursday, after they had been closed for the Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday, as is standard practice.

COGAT, the Defense Ministry body that liaises with the Palestinians, said in a statement late Thursday that the fishing zone expansion is “part of the civilian policy for prevention of deterioration in humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and is consistent with the policy of distinguishing between terrorists and the general population.”

The statement warned that security forces would “handle any deviation” from the agreement.

Israel expanded the fishing zone to 15 nautical miles in some areas off Gaza’s coast in early April, but subsequently reduced and then canceled the move in response to rocket fire.

Palestinian fishing boats sail into the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza City, Monday, July 9, 2018, with buildings of Gaza City seen in background. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

There are 3,700 fishermen in Gaza, the vast majority of whom live below the poverty line, a 2018 report by the B’Tselem human rights group said.

The move is thought to be part of a ceasefire agreement reached indirectly between Israel and Palestinian terror groups late Sunday, ending two days that saw almost 700 rockets fired into Israel and hundreds of retaliatory airstrikes by Israel’s air force.

Palestinian terror factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced the ceasefire agreement, but Israel has not officially made any comment, in line with its policy of ambiguity regarding such deals.

Palestinians have their IDs checked at a passport control station held by the Palestinian Authority at the northern entrance of the Gaza Strip just after the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing, on November 1, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

A senior Palestinian official in the Hamas-run territory said Tuesday that Israel had agreed to implement a series of measures within a week, including lifting restrictions on the import of many goods into the Gaza Strip, as part of the ceasefire agreement.

A number of Arabic news sites have published varying reports detailing the terms of the deal.

The senior Gaza-based official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel that the agreement “basically focuses on Israel implementing what it previously agreed to carry out, but now Israel has pledged for the first time to do so within one week.”

He said the fishing zone would be expanded to 15 nautical miles in the southern part of the Strip as part of the deal, though the Israeli statement Thursday put the limit at 12 miles.

In return, he said Gaza’s rulers are to put an end to all “resistance” against Israel, except for “peaceful” border protests.

A Palestinian family break the Ramadan fast next to their house destroyed in the recent confrontation between Hamas and Israel, in Rafa,h the southern Gaza Strip, May 8, 2019. (Said Khatib / AFP)

He added that “all options would be on the table” if the Jewish state does not abide by the deal.

The Gaza official said that as part of the deal, Israel consented to the transfer of Qatari funds into the coastal enclave focusing on small grants for impoverished families, salaries of Hamas-appointed civil servants, and United Nations-supervised cash-for-work projects.

A Qatari official is expected to enter Gaza in the coming days to coordinate the disbursement of millions of dollars to Hamas civil officials and needy families, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday.

A Palestinian man sifts through the rubble of a building destroyed during an Israeli airstrike, three days after an Egypt brokered cease fire agreement, on May 9, 2019. (Mohammed Abed / AFP)

Qatar announced Tuesday that it would send $480 million to the West Bank and Gaza to “aid the brotherly Palestinian people in obtaining its basic needs.” $180 million of the total is earmarked for UN programs and fuel to run the Strip’s sole power plant.

Four Israelis were killed by projectiles fired from Gaza on Sunday in some of the heaviest fighting seen in years. Gaza’s Hamas-run health Ministry says 29 people were killed in the Strip. At least 11 of those were Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists, according to the groups.

A picture taken on May 5, 2019 from the Israel-Gaza border shows a barrage of rockets being fired from the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. (Jack Guez / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the fighting in Gaza has not ended.

Representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have also threatened to resume fighting if the ceasefire deal is not implemented.

An Israeli military official said earlier this week that authorities were pressed to end the fighting before the Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays that ended Thursday and Israel’s hosting of the Eurovision song contest next week. The official warned that fighting could resume soon after in the absence of measures aimed at easing humanitarian assistance to those in the Strip.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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