The Israeli navy has detained four Palestinian fishermen off the Gaza coast, capturing their boat and taking them to an undisclosed location. Witnesses said that the Israeli gunships encircled the fishing boat offshore from Al-Shat'e refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli sources said that the fishermen were interrogated on board a gunship where one of them suffered shortness of breath. He was taken to Israel's Barzalai Hospital for treatment.
Niza Abu Ayyash, the head of the Palestinian Fishermen's Union, named the detained men as brothers Ashraf and Mohammed Sobhi Sa'dallah, 32 and 28; Mahmoud Ahmed Matar, 27; and Mohammed Al Sory, 25. He said that although the Israeli gunships fired live ammunition towards other fishing boats in the vicinity, no casualties were reported.
International human rights activists have been working with their Palestinian counterparts to document Israeli violations against Palestinian fishermen off the Gaza coast. Last week, the Olivia, a boat used for this purpose, broke down after being targeted by the Israeli navy.
The Israelis have tightened restrictions on fishing off the Gaza coast since 2007. They only allow Palestinian fishermen to head out to a maximum of 3 nautical miles even though the Oslo Accord allows 22 miles. As such, fishing has become very difficult and many fishermen have been reduced to poverty after being obliged to give up working at sea.
Mohammed, 42, a fisherman who has a family of eight, left the sea six months ago. "Recently, I've decided to go back to work at sea," he said, "but unfortunately the difficulties are still there."
He says that he was obliged to smuggle fish from Egypt instead of fishing. "I spoke with some of my friends who smuggle fish through the tunnels or by boats and decided that doing the same thing is better than being without work."
Israeli officials claim that restrictions on the fishermen are necessary because Palestinians "are using fishing boats for smuggling weapons and attacking Israel".
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad