Israel says it has closed the fishing zone off the coast of the besieged Gaza Strip in retaliation for the launch of incendiary balloons from the Palestinian enclave.
“Due to the continuous launching of incendiary balloons and kites from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, it has been decided tonight not to allow access to Gaza’s maritime space until further notice,” a spokesperson for COGAT, a unit of Israel’s defence ministry, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The move came after COGAT said on Tuesday it had reduced the extent of the fishing zone to six nautical miles offshore from 10 nautical miles, having downscaled it from 15 nautical miles a week ago.
A spokesman for the Israeli fire service said incendiary balloons from Gaza caused seven fires on Tuesday.
In the past year, Palestinians have succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland in southern Israel.
Israel had only restored the fishing limit to 15 nautical miles on June 4, after a previous reduction in response to fire balloons.
Under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, Israel is obligated to permit fishing up to 20 nautical miles, but this has never been implemented.
In practice, Israel only allowed fishing up to 12 nautical miles until 2006, when the fishing zone was reduced to six and later to three.
Israel maintains a heavy naval presence, restricting any traffic in and out of the enclave as well as the distance Gaza’s fishermen can travel to fish, severely affecting the livelihoods of some 4,000 fishermen and at least 1,500 more people involved in the fishing industry.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of the Gaza Strip since the Hamas movement took control in 2007.
A ceasefire struck by Israel and Hamas in May to end the worst round of fighting since 2014 has largely held.