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Israel returns 15 confiscated Gaza fishing boats

April 30, 2015 12:58 P.M. (Updated: May 27, 2015 1:35 P.M.)
A boat pulls small boats into Gaza port in Gaza City on April 29, 2015. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Israel has returned 15 fishing boats it seized in recent years off the blockaded coast of the Gaza Strip, the army said Thursday.

Palestinian fishermen said it was the first time Israel had given vessels back, and demanded the return of dozens more.

"The naval branch (navy) returned to Gaza 15 fishing boats which deviated from the Strip's permitted fishing zone and were seized over the years," an Israel Defense Forces statement said late Wednesday.

The tiny vessels were dragged back to shore by a boat from the Gaza fishermen's union, an AFP photographer said.

Fishing union chief Nizar Ayyash told AFP 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.

"There are still 60 boats held by the Israeli navy, and we demand Israel return them," he added.

Fatal profession in targeted seas

In addition to the seizure of fishing boats by Israeli forces, Palestinian fishermen face near daily fire, ongoing harassment, and interference with their work from Israeli naval forces.

As part of last summer's ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, Israel agreed to expand the fishing zone off Gaza's coast, allowing fishermen to sail as far as six nautical miles from shore, and to continue to expand the area gradually.

Despite this agreement, 29 attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian fisherman were reported between Sept. 1, 2014 and March 15, 2015, by Gaza-based watchdog al-Mezan Center for Human Rights. Due to the normalcy of such incidents, attacks often go unreported.

The center also said that 49 fisherman had been detained, 17 injured, and 12 fishing boats confiscated in the same period.

Last month, Israeli forces shot dead fishermanTawfiq Said Abu Rayala, 32,and arrested two others, according to Gaza medics.

Rayala was shot and killed by live ammunition while fishing on his vessel within the permitted boundaries of the buffer zone line, local sources told Ma'an at the time.

Two fishermen were killed in the months leading up to Abu Rayala's death, marking the fatal risks Palestinians face on a daily basis to make a living off Gaza coast, which has been under naval blockade by Israeli forces since 2007.

Around 4,000 fishermen work in Gaza, more than half of whom live below the poverty line.

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Palestinian fisherman Tawfiq Abu Reala during his funeral on March 7, 2015 in Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams, File)

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
Comments
Tibi / Tubas
Israel is so foolish to return them, since they certainly must know that
these boats will be used to try and break the blockade again.
30/04/2015 20:30
Bill / U.S.A.
Does Israel have any legitimate concerns? are the fishermen really fishing? Is there any smuggling or attempted smuggling taking place? If fishing is the only activity taking place then time will prove to the Israelis that they need not worry. But it only takes 1 boat caught smuggling and there go!
04/07/2015 03:29
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