Cyprus weighing Israel’s Gaza port request

At present, Gaza bound goods that arrive by sea, stop first in Israel ports. They are then trucked to the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza.

Palestinian fishermen in the waters off of the Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian fishermen in the waters off of the Gaza Strip
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Cyprus is weighing up an Israeli request to process Gaza bound goods, either through the use of an existing port or the construction of a special pier, Cypriot officials said on Tuesday.
The idea of setting up a facility in Cyprus has been floated for years, and Israel recently made a request to explore the issue, Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou told Reuters.
“It is an old issue which is now being re-discussed,” Prodromou said. “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 spoke just one day after Channel 2 reported that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had reached an initial agreement with Cyprus on such a plan, when he visited the country over the weekend.
Cypriot Ambassador Thessalia-Salina Shambos cautioned that such an idea was still in its infancy and that no agreement had been reached on the matter.
“We are not there yet,” Shambos told The Jerusalem Post.
Any such plan, she added, would need additional agreements from other parties, such as Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations.
“We are always ready to assist as a neighboring state that has excellent relations in the region. There are some ideas that have been floated but, of course, in order for them to be matured they require the consent or the agreement and cooperation of all stake holders,” Shambos said.
At present, Gaza bound goods that arrive by sea, stop first in Israel ports. They are then trucked to the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza.
The existing Gaza port is not large enough to handle cargo ships, and the international community is fearful about enlarging it until it can be assured that it will no be bombed in any future conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Israel also maintains a naval and aerial blockade of Gaza. It also places security and other restricts on the entry of goods to Gaza though the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing.
Israeli officials have drawn up plans for alternative passage of Gaza goods by sea, which would be in line with both Gaza’s needs and Israel’s security interests.
Liberman has conditioned the idea of a Gaza bound Cyprus landing for goods on an agreement that would ensure that Hamas returns the remains of two Israeli soldiers and releases the three Israeli civilians held captive in Gaza.
Any Cyprus idea would involve an Israeli monitoring system to ensure that weapons were not smuggled into Gaza.
The story of a possible Cyprus port for Gaza’s goods was released amid intense efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering in the Strip, whose two million Palestinian residents live on just four hours of electricity a day.
The Trump Administration is working on a Gaza plan and its envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt were in the region this last week and over the weekend to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Separately, UN Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov met with Netanyahu on Tuesday to push for an immediate humanitarian plan for Gaza.
The issue of a Gaza port or the Cyprus plan was not raised as Mladenov is looking for a solution that is much more immediate.
The UN envoy has held an intense series of regional and international meetings in the last months.
He met with Netanyahu as part of his ongoing efforts to support unity between the West Bank and Gaza, avoid another Hamas-Israel war, and  to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Gaza.
To that end, he has sought international funding and agreements from Israel and the PA to help facilitate needed projects by allowing needed material to enter Gaza.
Mladenov wants enhanced UN capacity and presence in Gaza to facilitate such projects.
He is fully committed to supporting the restoration of the Strip to the full jurisdiction of the PA.
Part of his list of priority projects include the upgrading and rebuilding the electricity grid and water infrastructure, including the creation of another water reservoir.
In addition, he wants to see job creation, cash programs and monetary credit for existing businesses.
At president, Israel supplies 125 kW of Gaza’s electricity, according to the spokesperson for the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
“In January 2018, the PA renewed their payments for the electricity provided to the Gaza Strip by Israel. This step brought an end to a long period of around a year during which the PA reduced these payments,” COGAT said.
According to the Israeli NGO Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, THE GAZA POWER PLANT also provides 20 MW of electricity, which makes up the 140 MW total that the Strip receives daily. “The amount of 140 MW is enough for approximately four hours of power followed by 12 hours of blackouts,” it said.
Reuters contributed to this report.