Gaza City - Palestinian residents of the besieged Gaza Strip gathered in the southern city of Rafah for the funeral of 18-year-old Faris Meqdad, a fisherman who succumbed to wounds caused by fire from an Egyptian warship late on Thursday evening.

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Maha Hussaini, a spokesperson for the Gaza branch of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (EMHRM), which collects evidence of human rights abuses by both the Israeli and Egyptian militaries, says the fisherman's death was unwarranted.

"Meqdad wasn't in Egyptian waters, he was in Palestinian waters and was shot by the Egyptians. He was completely unarmed and posed no threat to the Egyptian forces," she told Al Jazeera on Friday, the day of the funeral. 

Palestinian fishermen have endured great hardship over the past decade.

An Israeli-imposed blockade, which entails complete control of Gaza's borders, airspace and seawater, has made it "nearly impossible for fishermen to make a living", Meqdad continued, citing the Israeli-imposed limit of three nautical miles on Palestinian fishing boats.

Egyptian military forces have demolished thousands of homes on the Egyptian-side of the Gaza border in order to create a buffer zone [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

Although Israel agreed to expand the limit to six nautical miles in a ceasefire agreement reached in 2014, Hussaini asserts that this was never implemented.

The 2014 deal was meant to be implemented after 51 days of war between Palestinian armed groups and the Israeli military, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Palestinian territories, "as much as 85 percent of [Gaza's] fishing waters have been affected at various points".


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Meqdad's death comes at a time when Egypt is intensifying military operations on Gaza's southern border.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), the ISIL affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula, launched an insurgency in 2011, and has killed hundreds of civilians, police and military in the Egyptian peninsula.

Egypt has bulked up its military presence on the Gaza border and put pressure on the ruling Hamas party since Sisi became president in 2013 [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

The government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, which came to power in 2013 after a military coup that deposed democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government, has also put pressure on Gaza's Hamas administration.

Egypt has flooded smuggling tunnels on the Rafah border, resulting in dangerous sinkholes and dealing a decisive blow to the Palestinian enclave's economy, which the highest unemployment rate in the world at 43 percent.

At their peak, the tunnels contributed around $700m to Gaza's economy, with 15,000 workers and 25,000 traders making their living via subterranean passageways.

"The Egyptians use the fight against ABM to justify many things," Ibrahim Abrash, a political analyst and former minister of culture in the Gaza Strip, told Al Jazeera.

He added that while ABM is a legitimate concern, "not everything they do is justifiable".


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Abrash said that the Egyptian response comes from Sisi's "need to please Washington", which restored $1.3 b of military aid in March 2015, "by making sure Israel is also pleased".

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Egypt told Al Jazeera that the group believed Egypt's actions on the Gaza border are "heavy-handed". 

The Egyptian military has flooded tunnels to and from Gaza several times in recent months [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

"Many of these tunnels were used to transport consumer goods, medicine and food," HRW said. "One wonders why it was necessary to destroy them all."

Back in Gaza, EMHRM spokesperson Maha Hussaini focused on the plight of Gaza's fishermen.

Ten years ago, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinian fishermen in Gaza.

Today, there are less than 3,500.

Now, Palestinian fishermen are facing two different threats from both Israel and Egypt, Hussaini said.

Follow Creede Newton on Twitter: @CreedeNewton

Source: Al Jazeera