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26 Jun, 2018 21:37

‘Take it or leave it:’ Israel proposes building goods port for Gaza in Cyprus – report

‘Take it or leave it:’ Israel proposes building goods port for Gaza in Cyprus – report

Tel Aviv has discussed the establishment of a seaport for the Gaza Strip in Cyprus, Israeli media reports. Israel’s proposal, now being considered by Nicosia, comes after it has actually maintained a blockade of Gaza for years.

The alleged ‘good will’ initiative is, however, far from being without conditions. The establishment of a port would take place only if the Hamas militant group, which controls Gaza, releases Israeli civilians and returns the remains of IDF soldiers.

According to Israeli media, the proposal is indeed conditional on the release of the Israeli civilian captives held by Hamas since 2014 and 2015 as well as on the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, killed in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. “We will clearly and openly put the benefits package on the table [and say], ‘This is possible, this is the price. Take it or leave it’,” a senior Israeli defense source told the local Hadashot TV.

The proposal itself reportedly involves setting up a floating dock or even building a separate pier in Cyprus, designed to receive cargo from vessels carrying goods destined for Gaza and then shipping them to the blockaded Palestinian enclave. The goods are expected to be delivered from Cyprus to Gaza by ferry, as it lacks facilities to receive cargo ships.

All goods delivered to Cyprus would still be checked by the Israelis as part of a special monitoring mechanism, designed to prevent weapons-smuggling into the territory controlled by the Hamas militant group.

It is Israel that is actually behind the Gaza blockade. Citing the need to prevent arms-smuggling by Hamas, Tel Aviv has severely limited the inflow of necessary goods to the Palestinian enclave. In the meantime, numerous media reports, including ones published by Israeli media, warned that the situation in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating, with nearly all the drinking water sources in the area contaminated and the water crisis worsening.

The Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman advanced the ‘port for Gaza’ proposal to the Cypriot authorities on his trip to the island last weekend, Israeli media reported on Monday. The plan was agreed between Liberman and his Cypriot counterpart, Savvas Angelides, on Friday, the Israeli Channel 2 reported.

The plan was also then presented to the Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, according to the Hadashot TV report. The Cypriot authorities have confirmed that Israel has addressed them with this proposal, adding that no decision has yet been taken on the matter.

“It is an old issue which is now being re-discussed,” the Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou told Reuters, referring to the fact that the idea of establishing a port for Gaza in Cyprus has actually been floated for years.

“There will be contacts between the government and all interested parties in the region and, possibly, a decision will be taken. At the moment no decision has been taken. The request is being examined, it hasn’t been rejected,” he added.

The Israeli authorities have not yet confirmed any concrete details relating to the proposal. “The Minister of Defense and defense establishment, along with members of the international community, are pursuing many efforts to change the reality in the Gaza Strip," the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement. “Any idea relating to improving the humanitarian situation that is put on the table is conditioned on a solution to the issue of the hostages and missing persons,” it added.

Israeli media reported that a detailed working plan of the port establishment would be put together over the next three months and would be then presented “directly” to the Gaza people. “As soon as all the details are closed and ‘locked and loaded,’ we will appeal directly to the public in Gaza, going over the heads of Hamas,” a senior defense source told Hadashot TV.

Nowadays, Israel controls two land crossings into Gaza, with Egypt controlling the third one. Most commercial and humanitarian goods destined for Gaza are now transferred through one of the Israeli crossings. Goods that arrive by sea are unloaded at an Israeli port and are then transported to Gaza by trucks after being monitored by Israel.

The supposed ‘good will’ initiative comes after the Israeli authorities unleashed a violent crackdown on Palestinians taking part in the protests at the Gaza Strip dubbed the Great Return March. More than 120 Palestinian protesters have been killed by the Israeli military and 3,800 have been injured over more than two months since the start of the protests.

Meanwhile, Israel has also actually limited the entry of some goods to Gaza, which are considered to be vital to local hospitals. On June 15, Tel Aviv particularly limited the entry of helium gas to the Palestinian enclave, arguing that it had been used in attacks against Israel. It also threatened to completely halt the deliveries of the gas, which is vital for medical purposes, to Gaza if the attacks do not stop.