Hamas leader defiant as Israel eases Gaza curbs

Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:58pm EST
 
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

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

Gaza's children also headed back to school in their hundreds of thousands, in another indication normal life was returning after eight days of fierce cross-border fighting in which 166 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

Nonetheless, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar showed how fragile the ceasefire remained, with defiant remarks to reporters of how the Islamists would go on smuggling in weapons "by all possible means", including via Israel's arch-foe Iran.

A statement from the office of Hamas 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 6 miles, up from 3 miles".

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

Israel had formally barred Gaza fishermen from heading more than 3 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea for about 3 years, its gunboats often enforcing the rule, a measure Israel said was intended to prevent weapons smuggling.

Murad Al-Issi, a member of a fishermen's group, told Reuters his colleagues had already ventured out to the 6-mile limit on Saturday, undisturbed by Israel.

"The Israeli army naval boat which used to fire and torch Palestinian boats that sailed beyond a 3-mile distance watched without doing anything to prevent them," Issi said.   Continued...

 
A Palestinian looks at Israeli soldiers as they stand guard behind the fence between Israel and southern Gaza Strip November 23, 2012. REUTERS/ Ibraheem Abu Mustafa