Members of the Hamas security forces keep guard as Israeli
soldiers (rear) are seen near the fence between Israel and
the southern Gaza Strip. Photo by Reuters
Israel has eased restrictions on Gaza fishermen and
farmers, 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
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 (10 km), up from 3 miles".
The Egyptian-brokered truce deal 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.
Palestinians say the Israeli restrictions had hampered the
amount and variety of fish they could catch.
Inside Gaza, Palestinian farmers tended land along the testy
frontier with the Jewish state without incident, signalling
Israel was easing restrictions of the past 3 years barring
Palestinians from coming within 300 metres of a border fence.
The change took place a day after Israeli troops killed a
Palestinian man at a Gaza border fence, saying protesters
there threw stones and tried to breach the barrier.
Palestinians denounced the shooting as a violation of the
ceasefire and Egypt intervened to restore calm.
On Saturday (local time), a Reuters photographer saw farmers
in the Khan Younis area working close to the Israeli frontier
Hamas security officials were on patrol and Israeli soldiers
looked on without interfering, but for a brief verbal
exchange between one soldier and a Hamas guard, witnesses
Israel had no comment on whether it had eased conditions for
either the fishermen or farmers.
Zahar, the senior Hamas leader, sounded a triumphal note
despite the death toll and damage the Israeli offensive
caused in Gaza, where many saw the truce as a victory for
having forced Israel to modify its blockade of the territory
and help both sides avoid a potentially deadlier ground
Zahar said Hamas would continue to arm itself with the help
of Israel's arch-enemy, Iran, though the truce signed in
Cairo calls for a cessation of rocket fire at Israel, which
Israel gave as its reason for launching its attacks in
"We have no choice but to continue to bring in weapons by all
possible means," Zahar said, adding that he expected Tehran
would "increase its military and financial support to Hamas".
"We have a right to take money and weapons from Iran. They
(Iran) give to us for the sake of God, no conditions
attached, and I am a witness to that," Zahar told reporters.
In a rare phone call to Hamas' Gaza leader Haniyeh, Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised what he called
Palestinian "resistance and perseverance" against Israel,
which he said must now "bow" to Palestinian rights, IRNA news
Zahar said that after Hamas's rain of rocket fire that
reached as far as Tel Aviv and paralysed swathes of southern
Israel, "the Jews will think twice before" attacking Iran, as
Israel has earlier hinted it might do to stop a nuclear
programme the West fears is destined to produce atomic
Some analysts say otherwise, however, pointing at how the
Israeli military inflicted serious blows to Hamas's weapons
arsenal, showing the world it has cutting-edge technology,
particularly when it comes to missile defence.