A ministerial committee in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip announced plans on Sunday to ready the enclave’s sole seaport to allow Palestinians to travel abroad.
The enclave, home to 1.8 million people, has been under an Israeli land and sea blockade since 2006. Its sole gateway to the world not controlled by Israel is the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt, which has been largely closed since late October 2014. Egypt and Israel seek to prevent the Hamas terror group from importing weapons to the Strip.
Alaa al-Batta, spokesman for the committee formed to lift the blockade, said preparations were under way to launch — within two months — a boat service for the sick and for students studying abroad.
The port in Gaza City is currently restricted to fishermen, whom Israel only allows to fish up to a maximum of six nautical miles from the shore.
Israeli forces routinely fire near vessels close to the outer limit in an effort to redirect them back to Palestinian waters.
Opening a port was one of the main Palestinian demands to be tabled during negotiations with Israel to firm up a truce agreement that ended the 50-day Operation Protective Edge in July and August.
But the negotiations failed to get off the ground and the demand was never tabled.
“We are taking the necessary measures to allow maritime transport and to prepare for the construction of a port that will link Gaza with the outside world,” Batta said.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel to the Gaza port plan.
Several ships manned by pro-Palestinian activists have tried to run the blockade and reach the shores of Gaza, but they have all been repelled by the Israel Navy.
In 2010, Israeli naval commandos intercepted a six-ship flotilla in international waters; five of the vessels allowed the Israelis to lead them into port; the commandos were assaulted with iron bars and wooden clubs as they boarded the Mavi Marmara, however, and 10 Turkish nationals were killed when the Israelis opened fire on their assailants. The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis with Ankara.