By Ola Attalah
The Israeli navy on Monday reduced the fishing zone for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to five nautical miles in breach of a recently-concluded cease-fire agreement between Israel and Palestinian factions, the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry has said.
In a press release, the ministry stated that Israeli warships had prevented Gazan fishermen from advancing six miles off the coast as had been agreed upon when a truce was signed between Israel and Palestinian factions on July 26.
The ministry added that the navy had forced Gazan fisherman to retreat, erecting signs warning them not to exceed the five-mile limit – a move the ministry described as a "violation" of the recent truce deal.
Israeli authorities have yet to comment on the ministry's assertions.
Nazar Ayyash, head of the Gaza fishermen's union, confirmed that the Israeli navy had restricted fisherman to plying their trade within five nautical miles of Gaza's coast.
According to Ayyash, the Israeli navy "fired warning shots at fishing boats, claiming they had exceeded the allowable distance, which they [Israeli authorities] only reduced today."
Late last month, Israel allowed Palestinian fishermen to ply their trade up to six nautical miles off the coast of the Gaza Strip – as opposed to only three miles allowed before Israel's recent onslaught on the territory.
The cease-fire went into effect late last month, ending 51 days of relentless Israeli attacks on the coastal enclave, which saw 2,147 Palestinians killed – the vast majority of them civilians – and nearly 11,000 injured.
Over the course of Israel's offensive, initially launched with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from Gaza, at least 72 Israelis – 67 soldiers and five civilians – were killed, according to Israeli figures.
One day before Israel's military offensive began on July 7, the Israeli navy banned fishing off the Gaza coast altogether.
According to Ayyash, some 50,000 Gazans earn their living from the fishing business. He estimated their combined losses during Israel's 51-day assault at more than $6 million.
Ever since Hamas – which Israel deems a "terrorist" organization – won Gaza's 2006 legislative polls, Israel has imposed a tight land and sea blockade on the coastal strip.
The self-proclaimed Jewish state tightened the blockade further after Hamas took control of the enclave one year later.
Israel's blockade persisted, however, even after Hamas relinquished power in Gaza to a Palestinian unity government unveiled in June.