Tags: ML | Israel | Gaza

Israeli Minister Suggests Offshore Seaport for Gaza

Monday, 20 June 2016 01:01 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's transportation minister said Monday he is pushing for the construction of an "artificial island" off the coast of Hamas-ruled Gaza, saying it will alleviate economic hardship in the blockaded coastal strip and reconnect it to the rest of the world.

The Palestinians have greeted the plan with skepticism, however, concerned that its real aim is to further sever Gaza from the West Bank.

Yisrael Katz said his plan calls for an eight square kilometer (three square mile) island linked to Gaza by a five-kilometer (three-mile) bridge. He said the island, estimated to cost $5 billion, would include a seaport and perhaps a future airport. Israel would supervise security but it would otherwise be run by Palestinians and the international community.

Katz, a top deputy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel had no objection to easing the Gaza blockade as long as its security needs are met.

"I do not think it is right to lock up two million people without any connection to the world," Katz said in a briefing with foreign reporters. "Israel has no interest to make life harder for the population there. But because of security concerns we can't build an airport or seaport in Gaza."

Israel destroyed Gaza's airport during the second Palestinian uprising. Gaza City has a small seaport that is not large enough to handle container ships and is mainly used by fishermen.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power in 2007. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent arms from reaching the Islamic militant group, which has fought three wars against Israel since the takeover. Critics say the closure amounts to collective punishment of Gaza's 1.8 million residents. Repeated attempts to reconcile Hamas with the West Bank-based Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have failed.

Israel currently allows about 850 truckloads of goods into Gaza each day through a land crossing, but aid groups and U.N. officials say this is not enough to meet Gaza's needs.

Katz said the island would be in international waters and could provide economic independence to Palestinians while allowing Israel to still vet security.

He said he hopes Israel's security establishment will back the plan, and that it will soon come up for a vote in the Cabinet. After that, international bodies would have to get involved in the implementation and funding.

Katz said Israel will not negotiate directly with Hamas, which is sworn to its destruction, but has received indications that the Western-backed Palestinian Authority would welcome such a plan.

Husam Zumlot, an aide to Abbas, panned the idea as "dubious" and "politically motivated," saying it would lead to "the final severing of Gaza from the rest of the occupied territory of the state of Palestine."

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Israel's transportation minister said Monday he is pushing for the construction of an "artificial island" off the coast of Hamas-ruled Gaza, saying it will alleviate economic hardship in the blockaded coastal strip and reconnect it to the rest of the world.The Palestinians...
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2016-01-20
Monday, 20 June 2016 01:01 PM
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