Israel Extends Zone for Fishing Off Gaza

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JERUSALEM -- Israel said Tuesday that it would permit Palestinians to fish up to six nautical miles off the Gaza coast, canceling the limit of three nautical miles that was imposed after Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel in March.

The announcement came as Secretary of State John Kerry flew to the Middle East for a trip that will include meetings with the Syrian opposition and efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Israel agreed to continue easing restrictions on Gaza as part of an American-brokered reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey two months ago.

Israel issued a statement saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his minister of defense, Moshe Yaalon, had approved the expansion of the designated fishing zone, and that senior Palestinian, Egyptian and international officials had been informed about the decision.

Citing the need to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, Israel maintains a naval blockade on the Palestinian coastal enclave, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Israel had expanded the fishing zone to six nautical miles from three in November as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended eight days of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza.

Nizar Ayyash, the leader of the Gaza fishermen's syndicate, noted that the fishing zone had originally been set at 20 nautical miles under agreements reached in the 1990s.

"Israel opened the sea now after we lost the sardine season, which is the most important one in the year," Mr. Ayyash said. Still, he added, "the six miles are a gain for us. Any extra mile we get is better than nothing."

There are about 4,000 fishermen in Gaza, working out of about 1,000 boats. Mr. Ayyash said that the three-mile zone was "like a pool, not a sea."

Four fishermen have been wounded by Israeli fire since November as they approached newly relaxed security perimeters, and more than 40 have been briefly detained by Israeli naval forces, according to Mr. Ayyash, but all were released the same day. Mr. Ayyash said that the Israelis had confiscated equipment from fishermen who were detained and had rarely returned it.

Kershner reported from Jerusalem, Akram from Gaza

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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