Israel said Tuesday it has expanded the fishing zone off the Gaza coast from 22km (12 nautical miles) to 28km (15 nautical miles) in order to avoid “a humanitarian deterioration of the Strip.” The announcement comes just hours after both Israel and Hamas denied reports that they had reached a six-month ceasefire, although the expansion of the fishing zone is the first stage of such a truce.
"This step is part of our policy to prevent a civilian-humanitarian deterioration of Gaza. The policy distinguishes between terrorists and the general civilian population,” said the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Brig. Gen (res.) Kamil Abu-Rukun.
“Any deviation from the extended zone will be handled accordingly by the security forces."
The security forces completely closed the fishing zone after the latest deadly flare-up between Hamas and Israel. The cross-border fighting saw Palestinian militants fire more than 700 rockets into Israel, killing four Israeli civilians, the first Israeli fatalities from rocket fire since the 50-day war in 2014, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
The Israel Defense Forces retaliated with massive airstrikes on Gaza, killing 25 Palestinians, most of whom are believed to be militants.
The Defense Ministry announcement comes just three days after the end of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, which Gaza militants threatened to disrupt with rocket fire following the latest escalation.
Israel's Channel 12 television reported Monday evening that Hamas agreed to stop all border violence, with the weekly March of Return protests being kept away at least 300 meters away from the security fence for at least six months with the possibility for a long-term agreement being signed if the initial truce holds.
Israel, meanwhile reportedly agreed to expand the fishing zone and allow the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid to the Hamas-ruled enclave.
One Palestinian reporter, however, called the report about the ceasefire “fake news,” while several Israeli officials, including Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin and Blue and White MK Yoaz Hendel, said they don’t believe the reports to be true.
The organizers of the weekly March of Return marches also dismissed the report, saying, "We will continue the marches until the siege is lifted."