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Uncertainty reigns over Israeli plans for Gaza seaport

Feb. 25, 2016 8:38 P.M. (Updated: March 17, 2016 9:59 P.M.)
Boats moored in Gaza City. (AFP/File)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Uncertainty reigned this week following reports Israel has reopened discussions looking into the possibility of constructing a seaport off the coast of the beleaguered Gaza Strip.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday that senior Israeli officials have met in recent weeks to study various proposals, including one that would see an artificial island built off the Gazan coast, connected to land by a 4.5-kilometer bridge, and under full Israeli security control.

In Ramallah, Fatah officials called on Gaza's de facto leaders Hamas to clarify their position on a new seaport, denouncing any plans that would see such a port placed under Israeli control.

Fatah spokesperson Osama al-Qawasmi said in a statement: "Hamas' silence about the discussions causes Fatah to pose this question: how is it possible for Hamas to agree on a seaport controlled by Israel but refuse to hand over control of the Rafah crossing to the Palestinian Authority?"

His comments referred to a dispute between the two rival factions late last year when the Fatah-dominated PA attempted unsuccessfully to take control of the Gaza Strip's southern land crossing into Egypt.

Turning to the seaport proposals, Qawasmi reiterated Fatah's opposition to any attempts by Israel to politically cut off the Gaza Strip from the occupied West Bank.

The possibility of a seaport off the Gaza coast has been mentioned at various points over the last year and a half as part of Hamas' bid to secure a long-term truce with Israel in the aftermath of 2014's deadly war.

However, indirect talks between Israel and Hamas have been viewed with suspicion by the PA, which fears Israel is planning to redefine the Gaza Strip as a political entity separate from the West Bank. The PA has not held authority in Gaza in nearly a decade.

According to Haaretz, Israeli officials reopened discussions on a seaport due to the severe downturn in Gaza's economy in an attempt to prevent future conflict with the coastal enclave, which has already seen three devastating wars in six years.

Howerver, Haaretz reported that while a number of Israeli military officials support the proposals, they would likely be prevented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon who disagree with the plans.

The seaport would not necessarily mean an end to Israel's crippling nine-year blockade of Gaza, which is viewed by many as the chief obstacle to Gaza's economic development.

International bodies, such as the UN and World Bank, have repeatedly warned that Gaza's economic plight only contributes to further violence. The UN also warned last September that the territory could be "uninhabitable" in just five years if the situation does not change.

Gaza currently has a small seaport, but Israel does not allow commercial ships to reach it. Israel's navy has prevented several international convoys from breaching the maritime blockade, including notably the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, when Israeli forces killed nine foreign activists.
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