Here is a Tweet sent by the BBC Gaza office’s Rushdi Abualouf on March 26th.
However, beyond the unqualified amplification of a statement made by a Hamas spokesman, Abualouf’s Twitter followers were not informed of the actual facts behind this story.
“Israeli naval troops in the Mediterranean Sea opened fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning on suspected Palestinian smugglers travelling in two boats from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians said that four people on the boats had been wounded. […]
The incident occurred at around 3 am, several hundred meters from the Gaza coastline.
Soldiers from a nearby naval base were patrolling the area when they noticed two small boats making their way back from the Sinai coast to southern Gaza. The IDF is still unclear as to what the boats were carrying, but the secondary explosions have raised suspicions that the two vessels were carrying weapons.”
During the incident, the naval forces also came under fire from gunmen situated near Rafah:
“As the Navy was escorting the boats in question back to the Gaza shore, gunmen on the coast opened fire on the Israeli forces.”
Another similar incident took place later on the same day.
As has previously been documented here:
“Under the terms of the Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – Gaza’s coastal waters remained under Israeli responsibility. The agreements divide those waters into three different zones named K,L and M.
“Subject to the provisions of this paragraph, Zones K and M will be closed areas, in which navigation will be restricted to activity of the Israel Navy.”
Zone L was designated for “fishing, recreation and economic activities”, subject to specific provisions, including the following:
“As part of Israel’s responsibilities for safety and security within the three Maritime Activity Zones, Israel Navy vessels may sail throughout these zones, as necessary and without limitations, and may take any measures necessary against vessels suspected of being used for terrorist activities or for smuggling arms, ammunition, drugs, goods, or for any other illegal activity. The Palestinian Police will be notified of such actions, and the ensuing procedures will be coordinated through the MC.” [Emphasis added]
Following the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the November 15th 2005 agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Agreed documents on movement and access from and to Gaza) made no change to the above provisions.”
In other words, Israeli counter-smuggling measures along the Gaza Strip coast are within the terms of an agreement signed with the internationally recognised representative of the Palestinian people – the Palestinian Authority.
Rather than being mere “fishing boats” as reported by Hamas and the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, the vessels involved in this incident appear to have been engaged in smuggling – likely as an alternative to smuggling via the cross-border tunnels in Rafah which have been rendered inoperative by the Egyptian army in recent months.
Given that the closure of those smuggling tunnels has resulted in financial crisis for Hamas with, by its own admission, 40% of its revenue (other observers put the figure much higher) previously having come from taxes imposed on goods smuggled through those tunnels, it would hardly be unexpected to see the development of an alternative sea route. It would also not be surprising to see a Hamas spokesman promoting the public relations line of smugglers caught in the act as innocent “fishermen” for Western consumption.
It should, however, be unacceptable for a BBC employee to unquestioningly amplify the PR of a terrorist organization with a vested interest in smuggling operations involving both taxable goods and weapons.