Israel has eased restrictions on Gaza fishermen, further implementing a three-day-old truce brokered by Egypt after a week of fierce fighting with Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said.
A statement from the office of Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas government, said on Saturday Egypt had notified the group that “Israel has allowed Palestinian fishermen to fish in Gaza’s waters at a distance of six miles (9.6 km), up from three miles (4.8 km)”.
Israel had no immediate comment.
On Wednesday, a truce deal was agreed between Israel and Hamas, which wants Israel to ease the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza, said that while the fishermen were happy about the new development, they said it was not enough.
“Previously before [Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit was taken [hostage by Hamas in 2006 for five years], Palestinians were allowed 12 nautical miles out. And that’s what they want to get out to,” Johnston said.
“But actually under the Oslo accord, the interim agreement that was signed in the 1990s, Gaza fishermen should be allowed to go to 20 nautical miles out and that would make a massive difference to the [fishing] industry.”
Israel had formally barred Gaza fishermen from heading more than three miles out into the Mediterranean Sea for about three years, its gunboats often enforcing the rule. It said its blockade was a measure to prevent weapons smuggling.
“Fishermen have been stuck to three nautical miles. It’s been next to nothing to fish here for the last few years. They have even resorted to getting fish from Egypt into the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels at different times”.
Murad Al-Issi, a member of a local fishermen’s group, told the Reuters news agency his colleagues had already ventured out to the six-mile limit on Saturday, undisturbed by Israel.
“The Israeli army naval boat which used to fire and torch Palestinian boats that sailed beyond a three-mile distance watched without doing anything to prevent them,” Issi said.
Palestinians say the Israeli restrictions had hampered the amount and variety of fish they could catch.
“This is a good step,” Issi said, adding it would be best to be permitted double the distance.