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Palestine: Israel cuts back Gaza fishing access


Israel suspended part of a Cairo-brokered truce agreement Friday by halving Palestinian access to fishing waters as punishment for a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.

A small, radical Salafi group, Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for an attack Thursday aimed at the Israeli border town of Sderot which caused no casualties.

Israel, which holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from the enclave, retaliated by shutting the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing on the Gaza border and by enforcing a newly restricted three-mile wide fishing zone, down from six.

"In response to the rocket fire earlier this morning ... the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Minister of Defense, Mr. Moshe Yaalon, have instructed the IDF to narrow the permitted fishing zone for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from six to three miles," the army said, in a statement cited by Ma’an News Agency.

"Additionally, Kerem Shalom crossing will be closed. These changes will continue until the IDF is otherwise instructed by the political echelon.”

The fishing zone had been extended to six miles as part of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended Israel’s eight-day assault on Gaza in November, in which 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

Hamas said it had already filed a complaint with Egypt over the Israeli reversal.

"We have informed Cairo of this violation and we are waiting to hear a clear position from Egyptian mediators on this," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, giving no indication that Hamas wanted to abandon the ceasefire arrangement.

An Egyptian official confirmed that the Hamas complaint had been received, saying Israel had complained separately about the rocket attack – the second of its kind since November.

The official said Cairo would contact both sides to "restore their commitment to the truce." Israel said on Thursday its new Gaza restrictions would be in place until further notice.

Reducing Gaza's fishing waters spelled losses for some 3,000 Palestinians whose livelihood depends on the sea.

"There is nothing to catch within three miles from shore," said fisherman Talal Shweikh, 62. "All the fish that you see in the market today came from Egypt."

Palestinian fishermen are targeted by the Israeli army, who routinely confiscate boats and fire at those deemed too close to Israel’s maritime buffer zone. In September, a young Gazan fisherman was killed by Israeli snipers while out at sea. A number of others have been wounded by Israeli gunfire.

In an online statement, Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had struck during US President Barack Obama's visit to show up Israeli air defenses – a likely reference to Israel's US-backed Iron Dome rocket shield.

Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis and Hamas both consider Israel an enemy. But the Salafis accuse Hamas of diluting Islamist doctrine by seeking accommodation with secular Palestinians.

On Thursday the Hamas administration's spokesman Taher al-Nono questioned whether rockets had been fired from Gaza and reaffirmed commitment to the "mutual calm agreement brokered by Cairo."

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)

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