JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Hamas-run government in Gaza bulldozed part of a proposed UNESCO heritage site to expand a military training zone.
The military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, bulldozed a part of the ancient Anthedon Harbor in northern Gaza along the Mediterranean Sea last month, the Al-Monitor news website reported.
The 3,000-year-old seaport discovered in 1997 was proposed as an international heritage site last year and is the oldest harbor in Gaza. It contains mosaic floors with historical pillars from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic ages, according to Al-Monitor.
“Due to rising population in the region, the ministry appreciates the urgent need for using new pieces of land," the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism said in a statement, Al-Monitor reported. "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.”
Much of the port is covered with sand to protect the artifacts until they can be excavated.
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.
The monitoring organization UN Watch sent a letter on Monday to UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova urging her to bring the matter before the organization’s executive board. A copy also was sent to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton calling on the EU to take action.
"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."