Israeli sailors shot a Palestinian fisherman in the leg off the coast of the Gaza Strip Tuesday, after his vessel and a second boat didn’t obey orders to halt, the military said.
The two boats had been sailing in the waters near central Gaza, when they “deviated from a designated fishing zone” and “turned toward the south,” the Israel Defense Forces said.
“IDF troops called for the vessels to halt, firing warning shots into the air. Upon the suspects’ continued advance, forces fired toward one of the vessels,” the army said.
One of the fisherman on board the ship was struck in the leg by a bullet, a military spokesperson said.
The Israeli sailors escorted the two fishing vessels to the nearby Ashdod port. The injured man was brought to an Israeli hospital for treatment, while the others were “taken in for questioning,” the IDF spokesperson said.
It was not immediately clear how far the fishing vessels were from the shore during the incident.
Israel maintains a naval blockade around the Gaza Strip, which it says is aimed at keeping weapons and illegal building materials out of the hands of terrorists in the coastal enclave.
Until recently, fisherman in Gaza were permitted to ply their trade up to six nautical miles from the shore, according to the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
Palestinians, however, frequently complain the six-mile restriction is arbitrarily enforced and that vessels are regularly turned back well before they reach the legal limit.
In March, COGAT approved a temporary extension of the permitted distance in southern Gaza, to nine miles, ahead of peak fishing season. COGAT estimated the decision could add NIS 400,000 ($106,000) a year to the Gaza economy.
Around 4,000 fishermen work in Gaza, more than half of whom live below the poverty line.
Earlier this week, Israel informed Gaza residents that the previous six-mile restriction would be reinstated, a COGAT spokesperson said.
On May 16, the Shin Bet security service accused Hamas of “taking advantage” of the three-mile extension, saying the terror organization had used fishermen to smuggle weapons and rocket-making materials into the Strip.
Hamas and other terror groups have created a large naval smuggling operation, bringing in weaponry and “materials used in the production of rockets, like fiberglass resin,” the security service said.