Israel planning to build island off Gaza Strip for port

Israel is planning to build an island off the Gaza Strip that would feature a seaport and airport. The facility would free Israel of responsibility for controlling commerce in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority would play a part in managing it.

JERUSALEM // Israel is close to adopting plans to build an island off the Gaza Strip, controlled by an international force, with a seaport and airport to facilitate trade, the transport minister said yesterday.

Yaakov Katz said the project, in which he hoped the Palestinian Authority would play a part, would free Israel of responsibility for controlling commerce with the enclave, which is controlled by Hamas.

"This project aims at a total break with the Gaza Strip, while now Israel continues to be responsible for the trade of this area because we have not permitted the building of a port and airport," Mr Katz said on Army Radio.

"I have sought a solution that would allow us to break all ties with Gaza while maintaining our control over maritime security through the blockade, which is critical in blocking arms traffic."

Since 2007, Gaza has been ruled by the Islamist Hamas, and the enclave is under a naval blockade. Hamas seized control of Gaza when its forces ousted those loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas.

Mr Katz said the plan would allow Israel "to take the initiative, gain international support and open a political horizon on the key question of Gaza, without having to rely on Hamas."

"We are at the point where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should give the green light" to building the island, 4.5 kilometres off the coast and linked with a bridge.

On Tuesday night, Israel's Channel 2 television said Mr Katz was proposing construction of a man-made island four kilometres long and two kilometres wide.

The island, which would have both a seaport and airport, would also contain a tourist area, a marina, hotels and a desalination plant.

The project would cost US$5 billion to $10 billion and take six to 10 years to complete, Channel 2 said.

The project's backers in the government would like to see the island managed by the Palestinian Authority, according to the report, while Mr Katz said only that the "Palestinian Authority could be a partner in the project."

Gaza had an airport in the south. Israeli air strikes in 2001 during the second Palestinian intifada destroyed much of the facility.

The enclave also has a small fishing port near Gaza City, but it is not capable of handling shipping.