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Israeli forces open fire on Palestinian fishermen in Gaza

June 18, 2017 12:36 P.M. (Updated: June 18, 2017 4:16 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza City on Sunday morning, forcing the fishermen to sail back to shore fearing for their lives, witnesses told Ma’an.

No injuries were reported, and an Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that they were looking into the incident.

Last month, Israeli forces shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian fisherman, Muhammad Majid Bakr, off Gaza's coast.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement Sunday denouncing Israeli forces for the killing, highlighting the fact that Bakr was also the cousin of the four young boys who were killed in an Israeli missile attack while playing football on the beach during Israel’s devastating assault on the small Palestinian territory in 2014.

“It is difficult to imagine the pain the Bakr family must have felt in July 2014, when an (Israeli army) missile killed four of their children,” Abir al-Masri, a research assistant for HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, wrote.

“Today, they grieve again, after (Israeli army) forces fatally shot another family member, Muhammad Bakr, 25 years old and the father of two, while he fished with two brothers, Omran and Fadi, and a cousin on May 15.”

Al-Masri explained that “citing concerns about weapons smuggling, the Israeli navy, which patrols Gaza’s Mediterranean coast, limits Palestinian fishing to a zone south of the Israel-Gaza border and north of the Egyptian border, up to six nautical miles (recently extended on a temporary basis to nine) west of the Gaza coast.”

Omran Bakr detailed to HRW how their small fishing boat had been well within the fishing zone when they came under fire, despite Israeli army spokespersons claiming at the time that the boat had “deviated from the designated fishing zone” and that forces fired on it after fishermen ignored warning shots and advanced further out to sea.

“International human rights law, applicable in policing situations, permits the intentional use of lethal force only when strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life. Even accepting the (Israeli army) narrative, this standard was not met,” the HRW researcher said.

Palestinian organization the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reported that since the beginning of the year, Israel had seized at least five fishing boats, detained at least 14 Palestinian fishermen, shot and injured six, and killed one other fisherman, who drowned after Israeli forces sunk his boat.

Israeli human rights group B’tselem recently concluded that Israel’s Gaza closure and “harassment of fishermen” have been “destroying Gaza’s fishing sector,” with 95 percent of fishermen living below the poverty line.

Noting the Israeli army’s claim that it was investigating Bakr’s killing, al-Masri said that the army had also investigated the killing of the four Bakr boys in 2014, “only to exonerate itself from any wrongdoing.”

She concluded in her report that, “given the Israeli military’s constant failure to credibly investigate potential wrongdoing and hold violators to account, it bears a significant responsibility to demonstrate to the Bakr family that this time will be different.”
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