BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- In the third such incident in less than 10 days, Israeli naval forces opened fire on two Palestinian fisherman near the Gaza Strip and subsequently took them into custody on Sunday afternoon.
Israeli forces encountered the fishing vessel 1.5 nautical miles from shore, northwest of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. They opened fire on the fishermen and then surrounded the boats, demanding the two fishermen swim to their boat, according to a report by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
While the fisherman swam towards the gunboats, Israeli forces continued spraying the water with bullets, and they confiscated the boat's 10 nets.
Ammar As'ad Abdel Malek al-Sultan, 21, and Muhsin Akram Diab Zayed, 24, from al-Salatin neighborhood in Beit Lahiya were detained and taken to the Israeli city of Ashdod for questioning. Around 3 a.m. on Monday morning the pair were released via Erez crossing back into the Gaza Strip, but Israeli forces kept their boat and belongings.
A Palestinian Center for Human Rights report strongly condemned the incident, saying that "the continuous attacks against Palestinian fishermen ... violate their right to sail and fish freely in the Gaza waters."
The report also noted that "economic and social rights of fishermen have been violated by the illegal naval blockade imposed by Israeli authorities on the Gaza waters since June 2007."
In a statement, the Israeli army that the "vessel in question had left the permitted sailing zone and its occupants were arrested after not heeding the instructions of security forces."
It added: "The vessel was towed by the navy to the naval base at Ashdod, at which point the men on the boats were taken for questioning. As a pre-condition for the return of their boats, they are required to sign on a waiver committing to comply to instructions from security forces in the future."
The attack follows a similar incident on Nov. 10, when Israeli naval forces attacked and detained two fishermen 3 nautical miles off the coast, with one fisherman sustaining bullet-shrapnel wounds to the abdomen from Israeli gunfire. On Nov. 9, Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian boats as well and confiscated a number of items, but did not detain any fishermen, who fled.
The Gaza Strip has been under a severe blockade imposed by the State of Israel since 2006.
Palestinian fishermen are only allowed to go 3 nautical miles from Gaza's shore, even though Israeli-Palestinian agreement previously settled on 20 nautical miles. Israeli naval forces frequently harass Palestinian fishermen who near the 3-mile limit, as well as those inside the zone.
There are 4,000 fishermen in Gaza. According to a 2011 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross 90 percent are poor, an increase of 40 percent from 2008 and a direct result of Israeli limits on the fishing industry.
The Israeli blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans.