Eyewitnesses: Palestinian fisherman shot dead by Egyptian naval forces off Rafah coast
Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas' political bureau, prays at the funeral of Mostafa Audeh - Courtesy: Palestinian Sawa News Agency

Gazan fisherman Mostafa Abu Audeh was shot and killed by Egyptian naval forces on Wednesday evening, just off the coast of the Palestinian city of Rafah and close to the border with Egypt.

Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qedra initially announced on Wednesday night that the 32-year-old fisherman had been shot and killed on the Rafah sea, remaining tight-lipped as to the details of the incident. However, Zakareya Bakr, the coordinator of the Gaza fisherman’s union, stated in a press release issued later that night that Abu Audeh had been shot and killed by the Egyptian Navy.

An Egyptian military source speaking to Reuters denied reports that the Egyptian Navy opened fire on the fisherman, without adding further information.  

However, eyewitnesses who accompanied Abu Audeh’s body to the morgue at Rafah’s Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital and who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that the fisherman was within the permitted fishing zone when he was shot and killed by the Egyptian Navy.

One of the eyewitnesses told Mada Masr that the navy fired warning shots before targeting Abu Audeh directly.

It is unclear whether the fisherman’s death will have an effect on relations between Hamas and Egypt, as Cairo has played a key role in mediating deals for a ceasefire in Gaza and reconciliation between Palestinian factions in Gaza and the West Bank. At a speech given at Abu Audeh’s funeral on Thursday morning, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, said “What happened yesterday to the fisherman Abu Audeh was surprising and outside the context of our understanding with the Egyptians.”

Haniyeh added that he contacted General Intelligence Service (GIS) Director Abbas Kamel the previous night and had received a high-level answer on the details of the incident.

Gazans fishing off the Mediterranean coast are required to stay within a zone demarcated by Israeli authorities. The limit has varied over the past two months following an escalation in military activity between Israeli Armed Forces and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. After two random rockets were launched during mid-October from the strip into Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman directed that the area be reduced to three nautical miles. The area was expanded to cover nine miles at the beginning of this month following ongoing indirect negotiations between the factions and Israel.

Haniyeh said that during the current discussions with the Egyptian security delegation for a truce agreement he had discussed the issue of expanding the fishing area up to 20 miles.

In protest against the shooting, all fishing operations in Gaza have been halted until Friday morning, according to Nizar Ayyash, the head of the Gaza Fishermen’s Association.  

On Wednesday, Gaza’s Interior Ministry called on Egyptian authorities to open an investigation and provide an account of the shooting.

Delegations led by the GIS have shuttled in and out of Gaza in recent weeks, securing a deal on October 19 to deescalate the weekly Great March of Return protests. After monitoring protests last week, Egyptian mediation efforts reached a high on Tuesday, when it was announced during a joint Hamas ministerial press conference that Israel would allow an influx of funds into the Gaza Strip; money that has been earmarked to pay 60 percent of administrative employee’s July salaries as well as financial aid to the families of those killed during the Great March of Return protests, in addition to stimulating substantial job creation.

Abu Audeh is not the first Palestinian fisherman to be killed by the Egyptian Navy. Abdallah Zidan, 30, was killed by Egyptian gunfire in January 2018, and Firas Miqdad, 16, in November 2015.

According to Al Mezan Center For Human Rights, Israeli forces have committed 270 violations against Palestinian fishermen in Gaza since the beginning of 2018, killing one fisherman, injuring 16, and arresting 59 others.


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