Israel Expands Gaza Fishing Zone, Cross-border Trade After Continued Quiet

Yaniv Kubovich
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Gaza fishermen off the shore of Gaza City in May.
Gaza fishermen off the shore of Gaza City in May.Credit: John Minchillo / AP
Yaniv Kubovich

Following a lull in fighting between Israel and Gaza and a security assessment, Israel widened Gaza's fishing zone from nine to 12 nautical miles on Monday, according to Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

In addition, Israel will also allow the transfer of medical equipment, fishing gear, raw materials for Gaza's industry and textiles via the Kerem Shalom crossing. In turn, Gazan textile exports will be admitted into Israel.

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Israel had most recently decided to expand the designated fishing area for Gazan fishermen from six to nine nautical miles in June.

A Hamas source told Haaretz that the relief announced by Israel is merely a return to the situation prior to the latest round of hostilities.

They added that "it is clear" that the new government has realized that it is "impossible to link any relief" for Gaza with the return of Israeli captives that Hamas is holding as well as the bodies of Israeli soldiers, which the government had previously sought to do.

However, the sources noted that neither Israel nor Hamas is interested in resuming hostilities, which is why they have agreed to return to the status quo prior to the latest war.

Israel has also gradually expanded the exchange of goods permitted via the Kerem Shalom crossing since the cessation of hostilities in May. At the end of June, Israel permitted the entrance of fuel from Qatar to the Gaza Strip. The fuel is intended for a power station in the enclave. 

The decision was made "after assessing the security situation" and with the "approval of political leadership," according to COGAT on Sunday. COGAT added that the new conditions are "contingent on maintaining a stable security situation."

No incendiary balloons from Gaza have been launched against Israel since the beginning of the month. The last Israeli military attack on Gaza in response to incendiary balloons occurred on July 3.

Meanwhile, the Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, arrived in Gaza on Sunday night, according to a report in Gaza.

The source told Haaretz regarding aid from Qatar that "there will be no suitcases of money." Aid will be earmarked for families in need - over 100,000 - who will receive $100 each, though it is not yet clear when this will take place.

At the beginning of May, as tensions escalated, COGAT announced it was closing the fishing zone off the Gaza coast. On May 25, Israel’s political leadership instructed the military and COGAT to reopen the fishing zone and to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Israel also permitted patients seeking life-saving treatment, international NGO workers and foreign journalists to enter Israel via the Erez crossing. 

Last month, Israel and Hamas representatives were in Cairo for indirect talks under Egyptian mediation on the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014.

The sources said that no progress or breakthrough had been achieved thus far.

Hamas, which is holding Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed and the bodies of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, is apparently interested in separating the negotiations for the return of the four from the humanitarian issues involving the reconstruction of Gaza.

Pan-Arab satellite channel Al Mayadeen reported in June that Israel and Hamas had agreed to return to the mutual understandings prior to the 11 days of fighting in May.

According to the Beirut-based station, the return to the status quo will be gradual, and will begin with the entry of Qatari fuel into the enclave.

These measures are conditioned on maintaining the currently calm security situation between Hamas and Israel.

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