Flaming balloons from Gaza have continued to blow into Israel since the end of May. According to Walla, there have been over 50 incidents of incendiary devices this past month. The balloons have threatened to break the supposed treaty between the IDF and Hamas that went into effect following the violence that saw four Israelis killed by over 700 rockets fired from Gaza. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said Israeli strikes in response killed 16 Palestinians.According to the terms of the alleged treaty, the Gaza border protests must remain peaceful.“The Israeli government's powerful response to the incendiary balloons in the Gaza border - increasing the fishing area to 15 miles,” Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman retorted as he criticized the decision on Facebook.
Last week, in response to the balloons, Israel restricted the Gaza fishing zone to 10 nautical miles, one day after extending it to 15 nautical miles. A 15-nautical mile fishing zone is believed to be a condition of the informal truce. Both Israel and Hamas have dismissed reports of such an informal truce.
"This step is part of the civilian policy aimed at preventing a humanitarian deterioration in the Gaza Strip and reflects the policy of distinguishing between terror and the uninvolved populace," an Israeli official said according to Reuters.
Since 2000, Israel limited Palestinian fishing waters to 6-9 miles (9-15 km) from the Gaza coast.
Palestinians saw the move as an Israeli concession to a year of protests at the border, combined with several surges of cross-border fighting which have prompted mediation by Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar on ways to help Gaza's economy.
"Thanks to God and then to the 'March of Return', which opened up the sea for us," 69-year-old fisherman Ahmed al-Amoudi said, referring to the weekly demonstrations at the frontier, which demand a lifting of the blockade.
April to June are peak Gaza fishing season. The sector accounts for less than 5 percent of the enclave's GDP and supports some 50,000 people, a fraction of the 2 million population.
It is unclear yet why the Israeli government decided to expand the fishing zone at this point, especially because the reported truce would be seemingly broken by the Friday protests. Over the weekend, 4,000 Palestinians gathered along several locations of the fence and burned tires as well as threw stones and explosive devices.
Reuters and Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.