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Monday, March 8, 2010    

Israel Navy using live fire within Gaza coast buffer zone

GAZA CITY — The Israel Navy was said to have intensified operations along the Gaza Strip.   

Palestinian sources said the Israel Navy has expanded patrols beyond a three-mile zone off the Gaza coast. They said naval vessels have increased their use of live fire against suspected Palestinian insurgency vessels.

"Now, Israelis shoot all the time and without reason," Mohammed Subih Al Hissi, a representative of the Palestinian Fishermen Association, said.

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Al Hissi said the Israel Navy has targeted Palestinian fishing boats, a leading industry in the Gaza Strip. He said the navy was intensifying attacks on Palestinian vessels and seizing equipment from fishermen.

"The Israeli navy keeps confiscating fishing equipment and ripping up fishermen's nets," Al Hissi said.

The intensified operations were said to have begun more than a year ago. Palestinians said the navy has been ordered to fire on Palestinian boats within the three-mile buffer zone, something not seen previously.

The Palestinians said the Israeli operations have damaged the Gaza fishing industry. They said many fishermen were refusing to work off the Gaza coast and instead fish were being smuggled from neighboring Egypt.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported 36 naval attacks on Palestinian vessels from Dec. 2, 2009 to Jan. 20, 2010. A recent report by the Gaza-based PAL-Think asserted that the fishing community has declined from 6,000 to 3,600 fishermen.

"As a result of the Israeli-imposed restrictions on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian fishermen cannot reach many points and cannot catch many fish," Hamas Agriculture Minister Mohammed Ramadan Agha told the United Nations's IRIN news agency. "All the boats fish in the same areas, and there are no fish as a result in Gaza."

The Israeli military has acknowledged intensified naval operations. Military commanders said Hamas and other militias were using fishing vessels to smuggle missiles and bombs into the Gaza Strip.

"Regular security ships guard the area, and allow Gaza's fishermen to fish peacefully," Israel Navy commander Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom said. "I call on them not to cooperate with terror organizations and not to allow them to use these fishing boats for these purposes."

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