Hamas Bulldozes UNESCO Heritage Site, Draws Protests

YERUSHALAYIM -

Hamas has bulldozed part of a UNESCO heritage site located in Gaza in order to expand a terrorist training base, drawing protest from human rights activists, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Tuesday.

The military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, used earth-moving equipment to raze a part of the ancient Anthedon Harbor in northern Gaza along the Mediterranean Sea last month, the Al-Monitor news reported.

The 3,000-year-old seaport, the oldest harbor in Gaza, was discovered in 1997 and was listed as an international heritage site by UNESCO in 2012, It contains mosaic floors with historical pillars from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic ages, according to Al-Monitor.

Much of the site is overlayed with sand to preserve the artifacts until they can be excavated.

The monitoring organization UN Watch sent a letter on Monday to UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova urging immediate action to stop the bulldozing of the port “for use as a terrorist training camp.” A copy also was sent to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton demanding the EU also act to intervene.

“UNESCO’s admission of Palestine as a member state in 2011, which caused the organization to lose almost a quarter of its budget when the U.S. suspended its contributions, was justified as a measure to help protect world heritage sites in Palestinian areas,” the letter said. “Yet as Hamas turns a cultural heritage site into a terrorist training ground — the antithesis of culture — the silence of UNESCO now places the very credibility of the organization at stake.”

Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism released a statement in response:

“Due to rising population in the region, the ministry appreciates the urgent need for using new pieces of land. This is why the ministry has agreed with the different responsible parties on using a limited part of the location temporarily in a way that won’t harm the underground monuments there in any way.”

The deputy tourism minister in Gaza, Muhammad Khela, told Al-Monitor, “We can’t stand as an obstacle in the way of Palestinian resistance; we are all a part of a resistance project, yet we promise that the location will be limitedly used without harming it at all.” He added that if UNESCO had excavated the seaport, it could not have been taken over.