Israel returns 20 Gazan fishing vessels

First of 65 boats was transferred Tuesday via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Palestinian fishermen ride their boats as they return from fishing at the seaport of Gaza City (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Palestinian fishermen ride their boats as they return from fishing at the seaport of Gaza City
Israel returned 20 fishing boats to the Gaza Strip impounded by the IDF for breaking the naval blockade, after a petition by several human rights organizations was accepted by the High Court of Justice.
Nizar Ayyash, head of the Palestinian fishermen syndicate in Gaza, said that Israeli authorities informed the association that the vessels will be returned to their owners by sea on Wednesday.
The coordinator of the Palestinian Fishermen’s Syndicate of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Gaza, Zakaria Bakr, said that the court decision called for the return of 65 boats.
The decision to return the boats followed drawn out legal proceedings, after a petition was submitted by human rights groups Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights to the Supreme Court in January on behalf of Gaza fisherman Abdel Ma’ati Habil, whose boat was seized by the Israel Navy in September 2016.
The petition called for Israel to return the boats along with their equipment, which Israel in the past has kept when it returned boats to fishermen.
According to sources, the vessels were returned without their engines.
The court was notified on June 13 that Israel would return Habil’s boat “within two weeks,” and that the remaining boats would be returned by sea over the course of four months.
While the majority of boats will be returned by sea, Habil’s was returned by Israel on Tuesday through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
His boat sustained considerable damage from live fire during its seizure by the navy, and held without maintenance work causing authorities to have to return it by land as it could not be returned to the Strip by sea. It took seven hours to cross due to logistical challenges, according to Adalah.
Habil estimates it will cost over $45,000 to repair his boat. Spare parts and materials required for repairs are very difficult to obtain in the Gaza Strip, as Israel severely restricts and even prevents the entry of items it defines as dual use.
“Israel routinely seizes boats from fishermen in Gaza and holds them for months, even years, without legal authority and in violation of international law,” Adalah said on Wednesday. “This punitive, violent and illegal measure causes severe harm to the fishing industry and to Gaza’s economy, and must be stopped.”
Early on Wednesday, Palestinians in Gaza fired rockets into the Mediterranean Sea, triggering false rocket alert sirens in several Israeli communities bordering the Hamas-controlled enclave including Sderot. According to some reports, at least 10 rockets were fired into the sea from the northern Gaza Strip.
Incoming rocket sirens were also activated in southern Israel on Monday morning and were later ruled to be a false alarm.
Last week Israeli officials confirmed that new understandings had been reached between Israel and Hamas regarding a possible long-term ceasefire arrangement between the two sides.