GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza City early Friday, witnesses told Ma’an.
An Israeli army spokeswoman told Ma’an that when a vessel deviated from the designated fishing zone, the forces told the vessel to halt and fired warning shots into the air, after which the vessel returned to shore with no injuries or damage reported.
The exact distance of the fishing boat from shore at the time of the incident was not given by witnesses or the Israeli spokeswoman.Restrictions on fishing zones off the coast of the Gaza Strip have been heavily enforced by Israeli forces as part of a blockade imposed on the strip since 2006.
Israel agreed to expand the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast as part of last summer’s ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, however fishermen are regularly prevented from fishing within the agreed limits.Israeli naval forces have shot and killed three fishermen in recent months.
Palestinian fishermen face near daily fire from Israeli forces, Gaza-based watchdog al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reporting 29 attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian fisherman between Sept. 1, 2014 and March 15, 2015.Due to high frequency of such attacks, however, live fire at fishing boats often goes unreported.Friday’s incident came one day after Israel returned 15 fishing boats Thursday that it seized in recent years off the blockaded coast.Fishing union chief Nizar Ayyash told AFP at the time that the return of 15 boats was welcome but demanded that Israel hand back dozens more vessels still in its possession and criticized frequent Israeli attacks on local fishermen.
“It is true this is the first time Israel has returned fishing boats… but its forces fire at fishermen before they’ve even exceeded the imposed limit, especially off southern Gaza,” he said, adding that Isreali forces are still holding over 60 boats.The blockade imposed by Israel has devastated the livelihood of the around 4,000 fishermen living in the coastal enclave.
AFP contributed to this report.