Israel to return dozens of impounded Gaza fishing boats — report
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Israel to return dozens of impounded Gaza fishing boats — report

State said to agree to restore vessels seized for breaching fishing zones, following High Court petition by several rights groups

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 will return dozens of Gaza fishing boats impounded by the navy off the Strip’s shore to their owners, Haaretz reported Tuesday, citing court filings.

The report said the state made the announcement in response to a petition with the High Court of Justice by several rights groups demanding the return of seized boats.

It vowed to act in the coming months to return around 65 boats to the Palestinian enclave, most of which had apparently been confiscated for sailing beyond permitted fishing zones.

The petition was launched after a Gaza fisherman, Assad Habil, complained that he had been forced to pay for his boat’s return by land after it was captured in September 2016, and that equipment worth $150,000 that had been on board was not returned to him.

This led rights groups Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan to petition the High Court to demand the immediate return of all seized boats with any and all equipment they had on board.

Fishing boats return to the port in Gaza City on May 4, 2019, after Israel closed the fishing zone off the Palestinian enclave in response to rocket fire. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In response to the state’s commitment to return the boats, petitioners urged the court to demand a timetable, as well as a clear promise that all equipment would be given back.

Gisha attorney Muna Haddad said: “The state’s claim that seizure takes place due to the breaching of fishing limitations — which are imposed and altered arbitrarily — can not justify the serious harm to the property and livelihood of fishermen and their families.”

Israel announced Tuesday that it had extended the permitted fishing zone around the Gaza Strip to 15 nautical miles (27.8 kilometers), apparently as a first step in a six-month ceasefire with Hamas, the terror group that rules the coastal enclave.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said in a statement that the measure was aimed at preventing the “deterioration in humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and is consistent with the policy of distinguishing between terrorists and the rest of the population.”

Over the past year, Israel has extended the fishing zone to 12 or 15 nautical miles as part of ceasefire agreements on a number of occasions, but restricted it back to six when those truces fell apart.

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