Israel-Hamas deal may hinge on seaport for Gaza

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 13, 2014 at 10:47 am •  Published: August 13, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A deal on ending the monthlong Gaza war could hinge on a seaport for the territory on the Mediterranean coast that is blockaded by Israel and Egypt.

The Palestinians want to build such a port, saying Gaza needs its own gate to the world, while Israel says it cannot allow unfettered sea access unless Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas group agrees to disarm. Hamas has rejected such demands.

The issue is a main point of contention in this week's Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo on a long-term truce, including new border arrangements for Gaza.

A seaport controlled by the Palestinians could transform the lives of Gaza's 1.8 million people who have been unable to freely trade and travel since Israel and Egypt imposed tight border restrictions in response to a Hamas takeover of the territory in 2007.

Only about 13,000 Gaza residents with special clearance, such as medical patients and traders, are able to leave the territory each month through land crossings with Israel and Egypt. Virtually all exports from Gaza are banned.

Gaza once came close to getting its own port.

In July 2000, construction began on a $73 million port near Gaza City, but the project was derailed after the outbreak of a major round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting two months later.

If the go-ahead were given now, the port could be built in two years, said Ali Shaath, a Palestinian official in charge of the original project. As envisioned then, it could handle about 100,000 tons of cargo and about 1,000 passengers a day.

The latest round of Cairo talks is to last at least until midnight Wednesday, when a three-day cease-fire expires.

The Gaza war erupted July 8, following weeks of escalating tensions. Since then, Israel has launched close to 5,000 airstrikes against what it said were targets linked to Hamas and other militant groups, while Gaza militants fired more than 3,500 rockets and mortar shells at Israel. The fighting killed close to 2,000 people in Gaza, nearly one-fourth children, Palestinian and United Nations officials say. Israel lost 67 people, all but three soldiers, official say.

The Palestinian delegation, which includes members of Hamas as well as loyalists of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, says any deal must include a complete opening of Gaza's borders.

This would include the construction of a seaport and the rebuilding of Gaza's international airport. The airport operated for three years, until 2001, when Israeli attacked the radar tower — as part of Israeli-Palestinian fighting at the time — and forced it to shut down. Several years later, the airport was destroyed in Israeli attacks.

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