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Ceasefire opens up deeper waters for Gaza's fishermen

For the first time in years Gazans can fish farther off their coast and catch more fish, thanks to the terms of a new ceasefire with Israel.

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He says discussions will have to take place about each specific crossing and what changes will be made, indicating that there may not be an across-the-board easing of restrictions. He indicated that he did not expect substantial changes to the restrictions on exports, which have virtually killed Gaza's manufacturing sector, which had provided many jobs in the territory where unemployment is rampant. There may be an increase in the agricultural exports, which already take place, he said.

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Brighter future for fishermen

Extending the distance Gaza's fisherman can trawl off the shore of the coastal enclave makes a significant impact in their livelihood.

In the past decade, their territory has been steadily and drastically curtailed. After the Oslo Accords, signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993, Palestinian fishermen were able to fish up to 20 nautical miles offshore. That was reduced to 12 miles in 2002. In 2006, when Hamas captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the fishing zone was reduced to six miles offshore. And after the war in Gaza in 2009, the fishing zone was reduced to three miles offshore. Thousands of fishermen have abandoned their trade as the shallow waters near shore were overfished.  

In recent years, fishermen began buying fish from Egypt to sell in Gaza, a business Zedan calls "perilous and costly." Though he's thrilled about the new waters that are now open to his nets, he has to repair his fleet of fishing boats, which have been sitting idly in the harbor for years, before he can get back up to speed.

"Now I'm using my light boats. As you can see most of the big boats here need to repaired. This will cost me a lot of money, but I will be able to fix them if we catch more fish," he says. Two of his boats need repairs after being shot by Israeli naval vessels three years ago when they sailed, under cover of night, into the no-go zone in search of fish.

And while he can go farther than he has in three years, he is still well within the limit set in the Oslo Accords. Abu Marzouk says that Hamas has insisted that fishermen be allowed to fish up to 20 nautical miles offshore, the Oslo limit, but that Israel has refused, agreeing only to six miles. That issue is also on the agenda for the Cairo discussions, he says, adding that Hamas insists on the Oslo limit.

Farming the fence

Farmers who are now able to visit their land near the border fence are equally happy. On the eastern edge of the Gaza Strip, Nabil Abu al-Qumboz managed Saturday for the first time in five years to reach his farm, which borders Israel.

"I felt both happy and sad. I felt happy because I finally managed to walk on my land, and felt sad when I found it totally destroyed," he says. Mr. Abu al-Qumboz's land is located in the buffer zone, a strip of land along the border that has swallowed about 30 percent of Gaza's agricultural land. Until the ceasefire, Israeli soldiers stationed along the border often shot at anyone who entered the buffer zone. 

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