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Report: Israel studies plan to build island off Gaza Strip

March 30, 2011 11:04 P.M. (Updated: March 31, 2011 5:10 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel is studying plans to create an artificial island along the Gaza Strip with sea and air ports to be controlled by the Palestinian Authority, an Israeli television channel reported Tuesday.

The project, under development for three months by Transport Minister Yaakov Katz, proposes building a man-made island four kilometers long and two kilometers wide, Israel's Channel 2 television reported.

The area where the island would be is currently under a tight military sea blockade. Israeli warships patrol along the coast, firing on fishing boats that leave the enforced three-nautical-mile fishing zone, unilaterally declared by Israel in 2009.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly backs the plan for the island, which would also contain a tourist area, a marina, hotels and a desalination plant for sea water, the report said. It would be linked to Gaza by a four-kilometer bridge.

It is estimated the project will cost $5-$10 billion and take six to 10 years to complete, the channel reported.

The coastal enclave has been under a strict blockade, and construction materials for some 6,000 homes destroyed by Israeli warplanes during the 2008-9 Israeli offensive Operation Cast Lead have been prohibited from entering the area. Construction is only permitted by international aid groups, who say they have been waiting for the entry of 70,000 tons of material since 2007.

The project's backers in the government would like to see the island managed by Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority -- freezing out Islamist movement Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Abbas' Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the early 1990s. Tensions boiled over in 2007, when the enmity erupted into bloodshed that saw Hamas kick their rivals out of Gaza.

Since then, Gaza has been effectively cut off from the West Bank, which is under the control of Fatah, and the coastal enclave has been under an Israeli naval blockade.
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