Hamas defiant as Israel eases restrictions

Israel has increased the limit for Palestinian fishing boats from 5km to 10km.

Fishermen get their boats ready in the Port of Gaza after Israel increased fishing restrictions to 10km on 24 November 2012. Picture: AFP/Mahmud Hams

GAZA - Israel eased restrictions on Gaza fishermen and farmers on Saturday, 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 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 arch-foe Iran.

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 mid-November.

"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 agency reported.

FISHING LIMIT INCREASED

In 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 10 km ".

The Egyptian-brokered truce deal agreed on Wednesday calls on Israel to ease curbs on coastal Gaza.

Israel had formally barred Gaza fishermen from heading more than 5km 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 10km limit on Saturday and was not disturbed by Israel.

"The Israeli army naval boat which used to fire and torch Palestinian boats that sailed beyond a 5km distance watched without doing anything to prevent them," Issi said.