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Israeli naval forces detain 6 Palestinian fishermen off Gaza coast

May 15, 2017 12:03 P.M. (Updated: May 15, 2017 4:34 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli naval forces detained six Palestinian fishermen overnight Sunday and Monday morning off the coast of the besieged Gaza Strip and confiscated two fishing boats.

An activist who works with a Gaza-based human rights organization told Ma'an that Israeli gunboats opened fire at several fishing boats Monday morning, before obstructing one of the boats, taking the three fishermen on board into custody, and impounding their boat.

The three were identified as Muhammad Amin Abu Warda and his brothers Yousif and Hussein.

They were reportedly detained while sailing only three nautical miles from the shore and within Israel's unilaterally declared fishing zone.

Earlier on Sunday night, Israeli naval forces obstructed a fishing boat off the coast of the northern Gaza Strip and detained three fishermen, who were all from al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza. They were identified as Muhammad Tariq Bakr, 22, Abdullah Sabri Bakr, 20, and Muhammad Said Bakr, 27.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma'an they were looking into reports.

The Israeli army regularly detains and opens fire on unarmed Palestinian fishermen, shepherds, and farmers along the border areas if they approach the buffer zone.

The incident came after Israeli authorities decided to temporarily expand the designated fishing zone in the southern Gaza Strip to nine nautical miles on May 3.

As part of Israel's blockade of the coastal enclave since 2007, Palestinian fishermen have been required to work within a limited "designated fishing zone," the exact limits of which are decided by the Israeli authorities and have historically fluctuated.

Zakariya Bakr, chair of Gaza's fishermen union, told human rights organization Gisha that though extending the fishing zone was important, it was unlikely to affect real change for Gaza’s fishermen, according to a statement released by the group Sunday.

Bakr also explained that Israel demarcates the fishing zone using buoys, and the Israeli navy strictly enforces the restrictions. "Any departure from the zone defined by Israel places fishermen’s lives at risk," the statement said.

"Incidents in which fishermen made a navigational error, or drifted outside the zone by mistake, ended with Israel confiscating their boats and/or opening fire at the fishermen, resulting in injury, damage to equipment and even death. An incident such as this was reported last week, when a fisherman tried to retrieve a net that had floated past the buoy. He was shot and injured, his boat sustaining heavy damage."

Since the beginning of the year, Israel has seized five fishing boats, detained 14 Palestinian fishermen, shot and injured four, while one fisherman was killed, according to al-Mezan Center for Human Rights. In 2016, 135 fishermen were detained, 26 were injured by gunfire and 43 boats were confiscated. Dozens of fishing boats, and a large amount of fishing equipment are damaged or destroyed every year.
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