Israel said to ease restrictions on Gaza fishing and farming

GAZA Sat Nov 24, 2012 7:07pm IST

A member of the Hamas security forces stands guard as an Israeli watchtower (rear) is seen near the fence between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip November 24, 2012. REUTERS/ Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A member of the Hamas security forces stands guard as an Israeli watchtower (rear) is seen near the fence between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip November 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/ Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

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GAZA (Reuters) - Israel eased restrictions on Gaza fishermen on Saturday, further implementing a three-day-old truce brokered by Egypt after a week of fierce fighting, Palestinian officials said.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children headed back to school for the first time in 10 days, in another indication normal life was returning after cross-border violence in which 166 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

A statement from the office of Hamas Islamist Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Egypt had notified them that "Israel has allowed Palestinian fishermen to fish in Gaza's waters at a distance of six miles (6.9 km), up from three miles (4.8 km)".

Israel had no immediate comment.

A text of the truce deal agreed on Wednesday calls on Israel to ease curbs on the coastal Gaza territory, which it has largely blockaded since Hamas, which rejects the Jewish state's right to exist, took power there in 2007.

The sides had disagreed on exactly when and how the restrictions would actually be lifted.

Israel had formally barred Gaza fishermen from heading more than three miles out into the Mediterranean Sea for about three years, its gunboats often enforcing the rule. It said its blockade was a measure to prevent weapons smuggling.

Murad Al-Issi, a member of a local fishermens' group, told Reuters his colleagues had already ventured out to the six-mile limit on Saturday, undisturbed by Israel.

"The Israeli army naval boat which used to fire and torch Palestinian boats that sailed beyond a three-mile distance watched without doing anything to prevent them," Issi said.

Palestinians say the Israeli restrictions had hampered the amount and variety of fish they could catch.

"This is a good step," Issi said, adding it would be best to be permitted double the distance.

In another apparent Israeli step to ease restrictions, Palestinian farmers tended land along the testy frontier with the Jewish state without incident, a day after Israeli troops killed a Palestinian man at a border fence.

Palestinians denounced the shooting as a violation of the ceasefire and Egypt intervened to restore calm.

On Saturday, a Reuters photographer saw farmers in the Khan Younis area working close to the Israeli frontier fence.

Hamas security officials were on patrol and Israeli soldiers looked on without interfering, but for a brief verbal exchange between one soldier and a Hamas guard, witnesses said.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Israel had barred Palestinians from coming within 300 metres of the border since 2009, citing security concerns. (Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Andrew Roche)

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