Cyprus considers Israeli proposal to inspect cargo ships bound for Gaza

Deal would require ‘agreement and co-operation of all stakeholders’

Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Cypriot defence minister Savvas Angelides  and Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Cypriot defence minister Savvas Angelides and Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

 

Cyprus is considering an Israeli proposal to build a dedicated pier in an existing port or employ an established pier to receive cargo ships carrying goods for Gaza.

The scheme would allow Israeli agents to inspect consignments for weapons before transhipping them on ferries to Gaza’s tiny fishing port.

Israeli defence minister Avigdor Leiberman reintroduced the idea of creating such a facility during last Friday’s trilateral meeting attended by Cyprus, Greece and Israel. He said a deal would depend on the release of three Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by the Hamas administration in Gaza.

“It’s an old issue which is now being discussed,” said Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou. “There will be contacts between the government and all interested parties in the region [before] a decision will be taken.”

While an agreement in principle had been reported between Mr Lieberman and his Cypriot counterpart Savvas Angelides, Cypriot ambassador to Israel Thessalia-Salina Shambos told the Jerusalem Post: “We are not there yet.” She said a deal would “require the consent or the agreement and co-operation of all stakeholders”.

Inspected

Since Israel occupied the narrow coastal strip in 1967, maritime cargoes for Gaza have landed at Israeli ports, been inspected, and transferred by lorry to the Kerem Shalom goods crossing between Israel and Gaza.

Gaza totally depended on this system until 2007 when, after Hamas took control of the strip, more than 1,500 tunnels were dug between Rafah in the south and Egyptian Sinai through which food, medicines, fuel, consumer goods and construction and raw materials were smuggled.

This trade created jobs and gave a major boost to the strip’s economy until the tunnels were closed by Israel and Egypt between 2009 and 2015, when Israel resumed full control.

The tunnels had given Gazans a degree of independence. The Cyprus port project would maintain Israel’s siege and blockade, and Gaza’s dependence on Israel, which would continue to decide what and how much Gaza can import. It is presumed the scheme would permit Gaza to export.

The construction of a port in Gaza was mandated in the 1993 Oslo Accord. In 1994 $50 million was pledged for the port by the Netherlands and France and the Palestinian Authority signed a contract with the Dutch-French European Gaza Development Group, but Israel blocked implementation.

New contract

In 1999, the Sharm al-Sheikh memorandum stated that building should commence October 1st of that year. In 2000 a new contract was signed with the French-Dutch group and work began on phase one but Israel did not permit the import of construction materials.

On September 18th, 2000, 10 days before the second Palestinian uprising began in protest against the failure of Oslo to deliver Palestinian self-determination, Israeli tanks wrecked the port site, which was bombed that October. Gaza’s airport, opened in November 1998, was also bombed.

The resurrection of the Cyprus port plan coincides with discussions of ways to ease suffering of Gaza’s two million Palestinian citizens, who are deprived of essential goods and material due to Israeli restrictions.