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Israel lifts restriction on Gaza fishing zone as truce holds

Israel lifted a ban on Friday on Palestinian fishing boats operating off the Gaza Strip, ending a measure imposed during a deadly flare-up of violence earlier this month.

The fishing union in the Gaza Strip confirmed the lifting of the ban, saying the new limits imposed by Israel were 12 nautical miles in the southern half of Gaza and six nautical miles in the north.

Zakaria Bakr, an official with the fishing union, said a number of boats began fishing on Friday, the first in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The measure is seen as a first step in implementing a fragile truce meant to avert a new conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed factions.

“Friday, the Gaza Strip fishing zone is expected to reopen at a range of up to 12 nautical miles,” COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for the Palestinian territories, said.

“Application of the measure is conditioned on the Gaza Strip fishermen respecting the agreements.”

Four Israelis and 25 Palestinians, including two pregnant women and three children, were killed in the two-day flare-up as Israeli air raids pounded the besieged enclave and rockets were fired from Gaza.

COGAT closed the fishing zone and border crossings for both people and goods between Israel and Gaza in response to the rocket fire.

Under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, Israel is obligated to permit fishing up to 20 nautical miles, but this has never been implemented.

In practice, Israel only allowed fishing up to 12 nautical miles until 2006, when the fishing zone was reduced to six and later to three.

A tentative truce was reached on Monday with Palestinian officials saying Israel had agreed to ease its crippling decade-long blockade of the impoverished enclave in exchange for calm.

Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for Hamas – the group that governs the Strip – said Egyptian mediators, along with officials from Qatar and the United Nations, helped reach the ceasefire deal.

Israel did not publicly confirm the deal.

A Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he considered the reopening of the fishing area “the first step the (Israeli) occupation must take as part of the implementation of the understandings.”

An Egyptian security delegation arrived in Gaza late on Thursday to monitor implementation of the Cairo-brokered truce, he said.

COGAT’s statement late on Thursday did not mention any reopening of the border crossings between Gaza and Israel.

Israel maintains a heavy naval presence, restricting any traffic in and out of the enclave as well as the distance Gaza’s fishermen can travel to fish, severely affecting the livelihoods of some 4,000 fishermen and at least 1,500 more people involved in the fishing industry.

Around two million Palestinians live in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, a rival of Hamas that governs the occupied West Bank.