'Plans for artificial island off Gaza coast in the works'

Intel Minister Katz tells the JPost Annual Conference that the venture would seek to connect the Palestinian territory to the movement of people and goods.

Palestinians stand atop a boat at Gaza's seaport in Gaza City October 16 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians stand atop a boat at Gaza's seaport in Gaza City October 16
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Sunday night announced that he is working to advance plans to create an artificial island off the coast of Gaza that could improve the Palestinian enclave's economic and humanitarian situation.
Katz told The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York that the venture would seek to connect the territory to the movement of people and goods
"The off-shore project could provide Gaza with an economic and humanitarian gateway to the world without endangering Israeli security," he said.
Katz suggested that the project would relieve the Gazan population from the "pressure cooker" that has become the Strip, adding that it could serve as both a "buffer and a bridge."
Katz has previously expressed his support for the prospect of a seaport in Gaza as part of efforts to completely sever the Palestinian territory from that of Israel.
"If we cut off from Gaza - we would be cut off from half of the Palestinian problem," he told Israel Radio in March.
In his call for a port in the coastal Palestinian territory, Katz proposed that the international community should oversee access to such a terminal under Israeli security control.
"The absurd thing is that we evacuated all of the Jews from the Gaza Strip, yet the world regards it as if we remained responsible for it," he said in the radio interview.
Hamas has said that any long-term truce agreement with Israel should include the reopening of the airport and the building of a seaport in the Gaza Strip.
The airport, which is named after Yasser Arafat, is located in the southern Gaza Strip. It stopped operating at the beginning of the second intifada, when the IDF destroyed parts of its tarmac.
In February, the top Israeli official in charge of liaising between the government and the Palestinian territories said that if and when Israel did agree to the construction and operation of a seaport in Gaza, it would only be as part of understandings reached with the Palestinian Authority.
Israel recognizes the PA as the autonomous administrative body of the Palestinians by dint of the Oslo Accords, yet there are no official relations with Hamas, an Islamist group that has refused to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Hamas militants removed PA forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement from Gaza in a 2007 coup. Since then, the territory has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt.
Yasser Okbi/Maariv Hashavua contributed to this report.