Egypt Arrests Gaza Fishermen

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EGYPTIAN naval forces detained nine Palestinian fishermen off the coast of southern Gaza on Friday, a local union official said.

Nizar Ayash, head of Gaza’s fisherman’s union, said that Egyptian naval forces stopped a motorboat carrying nine Palestinian fishermen and took them away to an unknown location.

Ayash said the men were fishing near the border with Egypt. An Egyptian military official confirmed that nine Palestinians had been detained, but said their arrest came after they crossed into Egyptian territorial waters.

The official said that Egyptian naval forces spotted the boat as it crossed into Egyptian waters, heading from Gaza in the direction of the Egyptian Rafah city.

When Egyptian forces approached, the Palestinian boat attempted to return to Gazan waters, but the naval boats forced it to stop by opening fire, afterwards arresting the nine Palestinian fishermen on board, the military official said.

He added that the fishermen had been transferred for interrogation, and investigations into the reasons they entered Egyptian territorial water are ongoing.

In January, Egyptian forces shot a Palestinian fisherman in the stomach after he entered territorial waters near Sinai.

Israeli media reports last December claimed that fishermen from Gaza were being used to smuggle weapons to Hamas from Sinai using their boats.

The Israeli blockade in place since 2006 has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip, including materials necessary for building fishing boats, and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans.

As part of last summer’s ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, Israel agreed to expand the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, allowing fishermen to sail as far as six nautical miles from shore and to continue to expand the area gradually.

However, since September, Israeli forces have killed three fishermen, detained more than 49, injured 17, confiscated 12 fishing boats, and damaged fishing tools in nine other incidents, according to the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights.

North of Sinai, Israeli bulldozers escorted by police demolished homes and animal barns in Bedouin villages across the Negev late Thursday.

Several homes and animal barns were demolished in Rahat, al-Laqiya town and Bir Hamam, while Israeli forces also surrounded a house in Bir Hadaj belonging to the al-Abraq family in preparation to demolish it.

Activists in the Negev called on Arab Knesset members to prevent demolitions in the area by all means. Demolitions, in addition to denial of basic services and access to infrastructure, are part of an ongoing campaign by Israeli planning and construction committees against the Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, where roughly 70-90,000 people live.

In May 2013, an Israeli government committee approved a draft bill setting a framework to implement the evacuation of ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev, most of which existed before the state of Israel.

Bedouins in Israel live in 45 unrecognised villages scattered primarily in the region between Beersheba and Arad. They are the remnants of the Bedouin population that lived across the Negev Desert until 1948, when 90 per cent were expelled by Israel and the remainder confined to a closed reservation.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that the Palestinian Authority should cut its ties to Hamas running the Gaza Strip and engage in ‘genuine’ peace talks with Israel.

A senior Israeli official said on Friday that defence ties with the United States would remain ‘intensive’ despite a deepening rift between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu.

‘The picture is clear – security relations are extremely strong,’ the defence ministry’s strategic affairs director Amos Gilad told Israel public radio, hours after a frosty Thursday night phone conversation between the two leaders.

‘Defence relations continue full strength. Everything concerning the security dialogue is deep, broad and intensive,’ Gilad said. ‘These ties will continue and are continuing.’

Two full days after Netanyahu’s shock election victory, Obama called the Israeli leader to congratulate him – though the message was decidedly lukewarm.

The White House warned on Thursday that it might withdraw crucial diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, where the PLO have pledged to step up a diplomatic campaign to end Israeli occupation and achieve independence.

Obama said that Netanyahu’s pledge to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, and comments about Palestinian citizens of Israel voting in ‘droves’, a remark designed to frighten right-wingers into turning out, would force a rethink in Washington.

The White House said the US would ‘reassess’ its policies in the light of the Israeli leader’s campaign remarks. I don’t know what they mean by that expression,’ Israeli strategic affairs director Gilad said in response. ‘The picture is not yet clear. We have to see what they mean.’

Speaking with NBC television on Thursday, Netanyahu had insisted he was ‘proud to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, Arabs and Jews alike’ after triggering outrage for urging supporters to vote for him, warning that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were ‘turning out in droves.’

The veteran Israeli leader had raised global alarm when he vowed in the final days of the election campaign that he would never agree to a Palestinian state on his watch – flying in the face of decades of US policy to achieve a two-state solution.

In his first interview with a US television network since winning an unprecedented fourth term on Tuesday, Netanyahu did not completely walk back those comments. But he suggested he remained open to the possibility of new peace talks, saying Israel would ‘need the recognition of a Jewish state and real security in order to have a realistic two-state solution’.

‘I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable,’ Netanyahu said. ‘To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people committed to peace . . . it’s time we saw the pressure on the Palestinians to show that they are committed too.’

Netanyahu claimed that Iran, which backs Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was ready to start pouring arms into the West Bank run by the Palestinian Authority.

The newly re-elected Israeli premier told NBC News: ‘We withdrew from Gaza, we got thousands of rockets on our heads. (We) don’t want it to happen again.

‘I think the administration has said time and time again, the only way to achieve peace is a negotiated solution – you can’t impose peace. If you want to get peace, you’ve got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel for an achievable peace.’

Netanyahu also maintained that his controversial anti-Palestinian comments on a Facebook page aimed at drumming up support at the ballot box were an attempt ‘to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party’.

Some outside groups had vowed to ‘try to get out votes for a specific part, an amalgamation of Islamists and other groups,’ Netanyahu claimed, without giving any details, insisting he was ‘not trying to suppress a vote’.

He pledged to try to have ‘real integration of Arab citizens of Israel into the Israeli economy’.

The White House on Wednesday had chastised Netanyahu for his remarks, saying such rhetoric ‘seeks to marginalise Arab-Israeli citizens.’