Israel releases 4 Gaza fishermen detained at sea

07:00 Jan 8 2012 Gaza City

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces released four Palestinian fishermen early Sunday, after they were detained off the coast of the Gaza Strip a day earlier.

Israeli forces fired at their fishing boat off Rafah shores in southern Gaza, and forced the men to swim to an Israeli gunboat on Saturday morning, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported.

The men were released to Gaza at 3.30 a.m. on Sunday, but Israel kept their boat and fishing equipment in custody, president of the Palestinian association for fishing and marine sports Mahfouth al-Kbarity told Ma'an.

The Israeli army said in a statement that the boat had "entered waters that are off-limits for fishing within the Gaza Strip," and didn't respond to instructions to change course.

The vessel was taken to Israel's Ashdod port north of Gaza "where the individuals aboard underwent security inspection," the statement added.

Under Israel's maritime blockade, Palestinian fishers are forbidden from fishing more than three nautical miles from the coast.

During the Oslo accords negotiators had agreed on 20 nautical miles of fishing access along Gaza's coastline.

Noting that most Gaza residents were dependent on food aid, the International Red Cross said in July that Gaza's fishing industry had almost disappeared due to Israeli restrictions.

In early December, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights said Israel has detained 40 fishermen, injured five others and seized nine boats since the start of 2011.
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