GAZA, Feb 24 (Nidal al-Mughrabi/Reuters) - With their fishermen at risk of being shot at by the Israeli navy, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip
are finding new ways to supply the blockaded territory with a staple that is in short supply.
Seafood is coming into the Mediterranean enclave through tunnels from Egypt and fish farms are starting to fill a supply gap resulting from restrictions that stop fishermen from venturing more than 3.4 miles (5.5 km) from the coast.
The emergence of new ways of supplying seafood highlights the ever deepening impact of a blockade that controls land, air and sea access to Gaza, ruled by the Hamas Islamist group.
Israel says the blockade aims to prevent Hamas
, which is hostile to the Jewish state, acquiring weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.
For the majority of Gaza's population of 1.5 million, the result has been increasingly miserable living conditions, while Hamas's grip on power since 2007 shows no sign of weakening.
The group controls the tunneling businesses which have for more than three years been a supply route for everything from cement to electrical goods and now, fish.
Gaza's fishermen, once allowed to sail up to 12 miles from the coast, risk having their boats confiscated if they go too far out. Several have suffered bullet wounds in confrontations with Israeli patrol vessels enforcing the embargo.
The current fishing limit has been in place since January, 2009, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
, at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, a masked man emerged from the mouth of a tunnel carrying a box of fish packed in ice. Anxious not to be identified, he would not speak to the media because of the dangers associated with an increasingly risky business.
The Israeli military launches regular airstrikes on areas where it believes Hamas is using the tunnels to bring weapons into Gaza. Egypt, which has a strained relationship with Hamas and a peace treaty with Israel, is building an underground barricade on its side of the border to thwart the tunnelers.
Bringing fish through the tunnels from Egypt is not as profitable as supplying other goods, said Suleiman Itta, a fish monger who has started buying fish that come to Gaza that way.
Quality can also be a problem.
Sometimes the fish arrives almost two-thirds fresh, he told Reuters. We bring it from Egypt because of the lack of fish here, added the father of eight.
With their own catches becoming ever more meager, Gaza's fishermen have found another way of bringing fish ashore. They rendezvous at sea with their Egyptian counterparts and buy from them, sometimes venturing further than allowed by Israel.
We cross the line. Most if not all fishing boats do that, and yes, it is risky but we go to buy, fisherman Ashraf Assaeedi said.
In Beit Lahiya
in the northern Gaza Strip, Zeyad Al-Attar is farming fish in tanks. We have resorted to this kind of work because of the lethal siege. We produce 70 tonnes every six months, he said.
But restaurant owner Ahmed Abu Haseera does not buy from the farms. His clients prefer fish supplied the traditional way.
Clients do not like it. But what can we do? Things are difficult. One day we have fish and the next we don't, he said. (Editing by Tom Perry)