Tightening Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the reduction of the Palestinian offshore fishing zone from nine nautical miles to six. The drastic measure was taken in response to the ongoing Great March of Return riots and to sea protests, in which Palestinian boats sail up to the maritime boundary between Israel and the coastal Palestinian enclave.
“The defense minister’s decision was made following the violent rioting over the weekend near the [security] fence and attempts to harm IDF forces and launch confrontational flotillas at the maritime border,” said a statement issued by the ministry.
Furthermore, following consultations with senior IDF and Shin Bet officers, Lieberman instructed them to be prepared to take “additional steps if the violent incidents continue.” The move, which was also discussed with the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), may be followed by more restrictions placed on Gaza's only commercial crossing with Israel, the Kerem Shalom.
In violation of the Oslo Accords, which allowed Palestinian fishermen to operate up to 20 nautical miles off the coast, Israel had previously imposed restrictions on Palestinian fishing rights following the economic blockade on Gaza in 2007. Around 50,000 Gazans earn their living from fishing. Palestinians have repeatedly accused Israel of firing at fishermen off the Gaza coast which Tel Aviv justified as a violation of the set fishing zone. Earlier on Saturday, Israeli naval forces detained two Gazan fishermen off the coast of northern Gaza City.
Tel Aviv considers both the ongoing Great March of Return protests and Palestinian flotillas as “provocations” and has repeatedly blamed Hamas for inflaming tensions.
So far, 198 Palestinians have been killed and over 21,000 injured in the weekly clashes. Despite the growing toll, Israel continues to use sniper fire, rubber bullets and tear gas to suppress the Great March of Return protests, which began on March 30. On Friday, three people, including a 12-year-old, were killed by Israeli troops as some 20,000 Palestinians rallied at the border fence.
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