Palestinian fishermen ride their boats as they return from fishing at the seaport of Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman advanced a plan to build a port for Gaza in nearby Cyprus, when he visited that country over the weekend, Channel 2 reported on Monday night.
The report broke after US envoys Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend and discussed humanitarian plans for the Gaza Strip.
Liberman’s Cyprus port plan would include construction of a special pier for cargo ships carrying goods destined for Gaza. They would be checked with the help of an Israeli monitoring mechanism to ensure that no weapons were being smuggled into the Hamas-controlled area.
After that they would likely be sent to Gaza directly by ferry, given that the enclave lacks a port large enough for the docking of cargo ships.
According to Channel 2, the principles of the plan were agreed upon between Liberman and Cypriot Defense Minister Savvas Angelides. Within two weeks, work would begin on a detailed plan that would be presented within three months.
But any such move would be conditioned on Hamas’s agreement to return the remains of two Israeli soldiers and to release the three Israeli civilians believed to be held captive in Gaza.
In addition, Israel is expected to help the United States execute a rehabilitation plan for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which is home to two million Palestinians.
Upon seeing the Channel 2 report, former Intelligence Ministry director-general and former Mossad deputy director Ram Ben-Barak tweeted that the plan would help Gaza residents without harming Israel’s security.
He said that he was glad Liberman had adopted the plan, which he had promoted while working under Likud ministers Yuval Steinitz and Israel Katz.
Liberman’s office neither confirmed nor denied the report. It did say that Liberman and the defense establishment were working with the international community on plans to change Gaza’s reality.
The office cautioned, however, that plans on the table to improve the humanitarian situation were contingent on the release of those thought to be held in Gaza.
“We cannot release any details beyond that,” his office said.
At present, Israel controls two land crossings into Gaza and Egypt controls a third. But the Egyptian crossing at Rafah is often closed and is in any case not designed for the passage of goods.
Most commercial and humanitarian goods bound for Gaza enter through Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing. Goods that arrive by ship travel by truck from Israeli ports to the Strip.
The international community has heavily criticized the system of restrictions, including security ones that Israel has imposed on Gaza since Hamas took over the Strip in a bloody coup in 2007.