JERUSALEM Israel on Tuesday expanded the distance it permits Gaza fishermen to head out to sea, restoring a limit it cut in half two months ago in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave.
The Defence Ministry announced the decision two days before a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled since 2010.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the expansion of the zone from three to six nautical miles (5.5 to 11 km), a statement said.
Citing security concerns, Israel maintains a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas Islamists. It also restricts the movement of people and goods through its overland borders with the territory.
After news the zone had been extended, Gaza fisherman Nahed Abu Hasseera said some of his 3,000 colleagues had already ventured further out into the Mediterranean on Tuesday to try to net a lucrative seasonal sardine catch generally available only in deeper waters.
"This is a good thing and we hope restrictions can be eased further. The deeper we go into the sea the more fish we catch," he told Reuters.
Israel had expanded the fishing zone to six nautical miles from three in November as part of Egyptian-mediated truce with Hamas that ended an eight-day war. Rocket fire in March that led Israel to reverse that change has since largely subsided.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Pravin Char)