Israel denies talks with Hamas on seaport, prisoner swap

Jordanian daily claims sides discussing deep-water port between Gaza and Cyprus to meet long-held Palestinian demand

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Palestinian fishermen, as seen in boats at the port of Gaza City, May 13, 2015 (Aaed  Tayeh/Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinian fishermen, as seen in boats at the port of Gaza City, May 13, 2015 (Aaed Tayeh/Flash90)

An Israeli official denied a Jordanian report Tuesday that Israel was negotiating directly with Hamas over the establishment of a floating seaport between Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus and the Gaza Strip.

Quoting unnamed “Western diplomatic sources,” ad-Dustour daily claimed that Israeli and Hamas negotiators have been meeting both in Israel and in various European capitals to discuss the establishment of the commercial port, a long-sought demand by Palestinians in Gaza.

According to the report, they also discussed the exchange of a body of an Israeli-Ethiopian man who had entered Gaza in recent months for a number of Hamas prisoners serving time in Israeli jails.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, an Israeli official denied “any negotiations with Hamas.”

Israel and Hamas have never officially entered into direct negotiations, though they have held indirect talks in the past over ceasefires and prisoner exchanges.

The daily provided no information on the negotiators or the meeting venues, but claimed that the talks were documented in written protocols.

The construction of a commercial deep-water sea port was one of Hamas’s central demands during ceasefire talks with Israel following Operation Protective Edge last summer.

The idea of a floating pier in the Mediterranean, where international and Israeli supervisors will be allowed to inspect goods between Gaza and Cyprus, was raised by Britain, France and Germany to assuage Israeli fears over the smuggling of arms into the Hamas-controlled Strip. Israel, which maintains a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, has never officially agreed to the idea.

Presumably, the new initiative would entail inspection of all Gaza-bound cargo by Turkish authorities in Cyprus, as the article claimed Turkey may play a key mediation role between the parties. Qatar and Turkey — both of whom attempted to mediate between Israel and Hamas during the military operation — vocally endorsed the idea of a Gaza seaport as part of the resolution.

But talks have gone beyond the tactics of Gaza’s economic viability, ad-Dustour claimed. According to its sources, Israel offered to expand the Strip’s borders westward into the Sinai Peninsula, an idea originally attributed to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

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