Israel minister swims against tide with Gaza island plan

A computer-generated image of what an island would look like off Gaza.
Updated 31 March 2017

Israel minister swims against tide with Gaza island plan

TEL AVIV: An Israeli minister has gone against the tide in proposing a way he says would alleviate conditions in the Gaza Strip while maintaining his country’s security control — build an island nearby.
The unusual proposal has gained backing among some in the Israeli security establishment, but he is a long way from convincing everyone.
Those concerned with Palestinian rights say it would do little to address the root of the problem and question whether it would further separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank — making a future contiguous Palestinian state even more difficult to achieve.
Israeli Intelligence and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz argues that it is feasible and the best option for now, with the island’s long-term status to be negotiated.
Katz has pushed the idea for several years, but has recently redoubled efforts to spread the word.
It would see an artificial island built in the Mediterranean Sea some 5 km off the coast of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave under a decade-long Israeli blockade.
The island would be tiny at some 534 hectares, only a fraction of the size of Malta, for example.
It would include infrastructure to provide the Gaza Strip with essential services it currently lacks, including desalination facilities for clean water and an electricity plant.
There would also be a freight harbor and an area for container storage, which Katz says will help open the Gazan economy to the outside world.
A bridge would connect it to Gaza, with one portion acting as a drawbridge. An airport could be considered at a later stage.
The cost would be some $5 billion — but Katz argues it could be covered by private companies locating there.
Tania Hary, executive director of Gisha, an NGO monitoring Israel’s Gaza blockade, said steps like removing restrictions on the types of goods Gazans can market to Israel and the West Bank could lead to immediate improvements.
“I think Katz’s proposal raises questions about what the real goal is,” she said, asking whether part of it involves continuing “the isolation of Gaza.”
Raji Sourani of the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights was more blunt, saying of Israel that “we don’t want anything from them.”
Referring to the blockade and the 50-year occupation of the West Bank, he said: “All that we want is for them to get off our shoulders. We want to be normal human beings.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday to move ahead on a plan to create Israel’s first new settlement in the occupied West Bank in more than 20 years despite international concern over the issue.

Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

Updated 9 min 11 sec ago

Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

  • The meeting will touch on “security developments” in the country
  • Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s under-fire president is set to meet Monday with top security officials to discuss rare violence over the weekend that left hundreds wounded in the protest-hit country.

Michel Aoun will be joined by the care-taker ministers of the interior and defense as well as the chiefs of the military and security agencies in the early afternoon, his office said in a statement.

The meeting will touch on “security developments” in a country rocked since October 17 by unprecedented protests against a political class deemed incompetent, corrupt and responsible for an ever-deepening economic crisis.

It will also address “measures that need to be taken to preserve peace and stability,” the state-run National News agency (NNA) reported.

Demonstrators at the weekend lobbed stones, firecrackers and street signs at riot police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a flashpoint road near parliament.

Over the most violent weekend in three months of street protests, some 530 were wounded on both sides, according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defense.

Lawyers and rights groups have condemned the “excessive” and “brutal” use of force by security forces.

Human Rights Watch accused riot police of “launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque.”

Internal Security Forces, for their part, have urged demonstrators to abstain from assaulting riot police and damaging public or private property.
Protesters had called for a week of “anger” over the political leadership’s failure to form a new government even as the debt-ridden country sinks deeper into a financial crisis.

Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29 in the face of popular pressure.

Political factions agreed on December 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over ministerial posts and portfolios.

Protesters have demanded a new government be comprised solely of independent experts, and exclude all established political parties.

The United Nations’ envoy to Lebanon pinned the blame for the violence on politicians.

“Anger of the people is understandable, but it is different from vandalism of political manipulators, that must be stopped,” Jan Kubis wrote on Twitter on Saturday.