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Israel halves Gaza fishing zone

Israel today more than halved the fishing zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip “until further notice”.

According to a statement by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) – which administers Area C of the occupied West Bank, as well as the besieged Gaza Strip – Israel today scaled back the Strip’s permitted fishing zone from 15 nautical miles to six “until further notice”.

The move comes less than a month after Israel expanded the fishing zone from six nautical miles to 15 nautical miles as part of an unofficial ceasefire agreement with Hamas, which governs the Strip. The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire would see the Great March of Return protests scaled back, in return for a loosening of Israel’s stranglehold on Gaza’s economy and access to humanitarian resources.

Despite the official expansion, reports emerged from Gaza that this was only applied to isolated areas of the Strip’s coastline and that Israeli navy ships prevented Gazan fishermen from entering the newly-expanded zones. Locals reported that the Israeli ships fired water cannons at the fishing boats, trying to sink them and forcing them to flee.

Israel repeatedly attacks Gaza’s fishermen. In February, Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem reported that, over the course of 2018, “the Israeli navy’s routine harassment of fishermen saw 53 Palestinians arrested, three of whom had not been released as of January 2019”.

B’Tselem added that Israel “also confiscated dozens of hasakes [a type of paddle board] after sea chases,” while “navy fire resulted in damage to 32 fishing boat floodlights, three GPS devices and one echo sounding device that helps locate fish”. In these pursuits, “121 fishing nets were lost at sea”, the NGO continued.

B’Tselem explained that Israel also uses the fishing zones as an excuse to attack fishermen, stating: “One reason alleged [for Israel’s attacks] is boats sailing beyond the permitted area, even when fishermen use GPS devices and ensure they remain within the permitted boundaries.”

Israel claims today’s reduction of the fishing zone is a response to alleged rocket fire from the Strip overnight by the Islamic Jihad group. Islamic Jihad has, however, slammed the allegation, saying in a statement: “Israel’s accusations are part of an organised campaign of incitement against Islamic Jihad and its leadership, headed by Ziad Al-Nakhalah, and is an excuse to act against the organisation’s leadership.”

Israel has since tweeted an image of Islamic Jihad’s leader in northern Gaza, Bahaa Abu Al-Ata, a move which the Times of Israel believes represents a “tacit threat” against him by the Israeli army. Abu Al-Ata has repeatedly been the target of assassination attempts, most notably during Israel’s 2012 and 2014 wars on Gaza.

Despite the ceasefire, Israel has continued to strike the already-besieged enclave. In what was seen as an attempt to prove his security credentials ahead of Israel’s general election on 9 April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the army to bombard the Strip for several days in late March. Images showed widespread destruction of infrastructure, including a destroyed mosque and several families’ homes. Strikes have continued throughout April, with the Israeli army hitting numerous locations in the Strip with air strikes and tank fire.