Palestinians seek to turn rubble of settler homes into Gaza port

Date: 06-20-05

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Palestinians are hoping to use the rubble from the homes of the Gaza Strip settlers to build a seaport after Israel's pullout from the territory, but questions remain over who will pick up the tab.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 1 television, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas vowed that the Palestinians would coordinate with Israel over the fate of the 1,200-plus homes to be destroyed when the settlers leave.

He raised the idea of refashioning the remains into a port.

"If Israel decides to be rid of these houses, then we, of course, are ready to cooperate, even with the removal of the rubble and to use that rubble in the future, whether it is for construction of the port or in other ways," he said.

The Palestinian Authority is desperate to re-energise the stagnant economy in the Gaza Strip, where personal income has shrunk by 40 percent over nearly five years of bloodshed, by opening up the territory to trade with the outside world.

The port plan was discussed Sunday by Palestinian civil affairs minister Mohammed Dahlan, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and James Wolfensohn, special international envoy for disengagement, the Israeli defence ministry said.

Diplomatic sources stressed there was no final agreement, although the technicalities of using the rubble to construct a port were being examined, provided toxic materials such as asbestos were dumped elsewhere.

"The hazardous material would need to go to a dump site in Israel, but there would be a fair amount of concrete, brick and tile," one source said.

"Whether any of that could be used for a landfill needed to build a port would depend on the Palestinians wanting to use the rubble."

After visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Israel and the Palestinian Authority had agreed that the houses would be razed, officials stressed Monday that the jury was still out on who was footing the bill.

A senior Israeli government official said the Palestinian Authority would be paid to shift the debris, but that there was no agreement on whether the necesary millions would be paid by Israel or the international community.

Senior US officials travelling with Rice told reporters the clean-up was likely to cost between 50 and 60 million dollars.

They said removing the rubble would not be funded by the Palestinians, but it was not yet clear whether the costs would be covered by Israel or international funding.

But other diplomatic sources disputed the legitimacy of foreign taxpayers paying for the Palestinian Authority or contractors to mop up behind Israel.

"There is a lot of jockeying around over who's going to pay. I don't see why anyone else should pay for it at all... Certainly not overtly, although certain parties might help out the Israeli government," said one diplomat involved in the planning for the pullout.

Under international law, as an occupier in the Gaza Strip, Israel is obliged to return the Palestinian territory in the same shape it was seized in 1967.

When it comes to actually shifting the rubble, Israel may well hire a foreign contractor to avoid paying the Palestinian Authority directly and give the impression of international endorsement for the destruction, the diplomat added.

Israel is to evacuate all troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and small parts of the northern West Bank from mid-August.

The details of the demolitions would be discussed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas at a summit scheduled to take place on Tuesday in Jerusalem, a senior Israeli government official said.

"The whole process hasn't really taken off at a technical level at all... because no one knew what was going to happen," said the diplomat.



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