Feature: Palestinian fishermen feel no improvement after Israel expands fishing zone off Gaza shores

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-05 03:00:28|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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A Palestinian fisherman displays his catch at a seaport in Gaza, April 4, 2019. (Xinhua/Stringer)

GAZA, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Despite Israel's decision to ease its security restrictions imposed on fishermen off the Gaza Strip coast, Palestinian fisherman Mohammed Abu Hamada did not catch much fish during his 12-hour night fishing journey.

"I could not catch more fish after the restrictions were relaxed because fishing in six miles is similar to fishing in 15 miles...fish live behind the 15-mile area," 42-year-old Abu Hamada ironically said as he harbored his old fishing boat at Gaza's sole fishing port.

On Monday, Israel expanded the permitted fishing zone in Gaza from six to 15 nautical miles as part of a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian militant groups in the blockaded territory.

Israel said the move aims at avoiding more deterioration in humanitarian conditions in the coastal enclave.

Egypt and the United Nations brokered a cease-fire agreement last week to end hostilities between Israel and Palestinian factions led by Hamas rulers of Gaza and to improve living conditions in Gaza by easing Israel's 12-year blockade.

"Expanding the fishing zone for 15 miles is meaningless...I almost had the same catch I used to get when fishing in the six mile area," the man, who has been a fisherman for 20 years, told Xinhua.

He complained that his catch of fish cannot cover the cost of fuel for the boat and wages of his four workers, urging for completely lifting the blockade imposed on fishermen so they could work freely and have a bountiful catch.

"I was so optimistic and thought the boat will not be enough for the fish that will end up in my net, but my luck hit a brick a wall," the man, who regretted spending a cold winter night riding the waves in search for flocks of fish, sadly said.

There are about 3,800 fishermen working on more than 700 boats in Gaza Strip, where 70,000 Palestinians are making a living out of fishing, according to official Palestinian records.

Under the Oslo peace agreement, signed between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, Palestinian fishermen are allowed to fish in an area of 20 nautical miles (37 km).

But Israeli Navy has reduced the fishing zone down to six miles, and sometimes to only three miles offshore, after Israel imposed a tight blockade on the enclave following Islamic Hamas movement's violent takeover of the seaside territory in 2007.

Israel said it imposed the maritime blockade in order to staunch arms smuggling into the coastal enclave after Hamas seized Gaza.

Head of fishery union in Gaza, Nizar Ayyash, said Israel decided to expand the allowed fishing area to six nautical miles in northern Gaza Strip, 12 miles in central Gaza Strip and 15 miles in southern Gaza Strip, up to the Egyptian maritime border.

Ayyash downplayed the importance of the Israeli step, stressing that it cannot help revive the ailing fishing sector in Gaza as long as fishing activities will remain under Israel's security control.

In addition to the naval restrictions, Israel army killed dozens of Palestinian fishermen and arrested hundreds in recent years.

At Gaza city's fish market, sellers believe that the Israeli decision did not make a notable difference.

"Nothing has changed despite the expansion of fishing area," fish seller Saed Bakr told Xinhua as he cleaned unskinned sea bass fillets for a customer.

Bakr, who once was a fisherman and had his boat confiscated by Israeli naval forces, said customer turnout is high, "but people are only buying small cheap fish."

Not far away from Bakr's small store, Khalid Karam, a worker from Gaza City, toured the market, but could not buy as the prices were high.

"I came to the market to buy the fish and I expected to find large amounts of cheap fish after the Israeli decision, but prices are still high and the amounts are almost the same."

A February report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics showed that unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip reached 52 percent in 2018 compared to 44 percent in 2017.

A local Gaza-based committee resisting the 12-year Israeli blockade has warned in January that Israel's embargo has led to a severe humanitarian deterioration in all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip.

It also said the per-day income in Gaza has reached two U.S. dollars, adding that 85 percent of the populations are living under the poverty line.

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