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2 Gazans wounded, 4 missing after Israel fires on boats

Fishermen reportedly escaped under heavy Israeli fire at sea and were thought to be at a Rafah hospital early Monday
Gazan fishermen celebrated when a six mile nautical zone was announced as part of the most recent Gaza ceasefire agreement (AFP)

At least two Gaza fishermen were wounded and four missing Monday after the Israeli navy fired on two boats off the coast, officials from the Hamas-run security services said. 

Israeli forces reportedly shot at one of the boats until it caught on fire at which point fishermen from a nearby boat pulled injured passengers from the first boat aboard and escaped under heavy fire, Ma'an News Agency reported. 

The injured fishermen were taken to Abu Yusuf al-Najjar hospital in Rafah, according to Ma'an, but Hamas officials were not immediately certain they had been arrested.

The Israeli military said naval fire had destroyed one boat which officials said had been involved in smuggling, but had no information about the four fishermen reported missing. 

The Israeli military said that naval vessels tracked a boat engaged in smuggling from nearby Egypt, but did not indicate what they believed was being smuggled. 

"The navy identified a fishing boat which had left the Gaza shore and went down towards Egypt," a statement said. 

"The forces followed the boat and identified it heading back towards Gaza, fully loaded," it said, adding that Israeli warships had fired warning shots before targeting the vessel when it failed to respond.

Under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Agreement, Gaza's fishermen were granted a fishing zone of up to 20 nautical miles off the coast an area that had decreased to three nautical miles as of Operation Cast Lead.

Following this summer's war on Gaza, Israel and Palestinian militant groups agreed on 26 August that Israel would immediately expand the fishing zone off Gaza's coast to six nautical miles, and would continue to expand the area gradually.

Since that agreement, according to Ma'an, there have been widespread reports of Israeli forces firing at fishermen within the new limits.

"These are the worst conditions we've ever known," 41-year-old fisherman Rami Bakr, who has spent more than three decades of his life fishing the waters off Gaza, told reporters late last month.  

"During the war, the Israelis bombed fishing huts on the beach and now they are preventing fishermen from earning their crust at sea," he said.   

There are around 4,000 fishermen working in Gaza, more than half of whom live below the poverty line.