Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Destroyed Gaza airport embodies shattered hopes

AFP, RAFAH, Palestinian Territories

A man walks in the destroyed and deserted terminal of the Gaza Strip’s former Yasser Arafat International Airport in Rafah on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

The opening of the Palestinians’ first airport, in the presence of then-US president Bill Clinton, was a symbol of the hopes for independence and peace kindled by the Oslo Accords.

However, 25 years after Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed the first of the historic agreements on Sept. 13, 1993, the airport in Gaza lies in tatters, along with Palestinian hopes for an independent state.

Today the concrete arrival halls remain in place, but much of the rest of the site is covered in piles of rubbish and rubble — the remnants of years of war and neglect.

The runway is scattered with refuse, dragged in by donkey cart from nearby refugee camps.

Airport head engineer Daifallah al-Akhras said he wept on a recent visit to the terminal.

“We built the airport to be the first symbol of sovereignty,” he said. “Now you don’t see anything but destruction and ruin.”

When the airport opened in late 1998, it was one of the most tangible symbols of the Oslo Accords.

Many saw the deals as paving the way to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but their five-year transitional period expired without a resolution to the conflict.

Built with funding from countries across the globe, it hosted the newly formed Palestinian Airlines and was able to handle hundreds of thousands of passengers a year.

No airplanes have taken off or landed for nearly 20 years and thieves have stripped the site of valuable equipment.

The site has seen further tension in the past few months, with major protests against Israel’s blockade sparking clashes along the border just a few hundred meters away.

“The airport used to be packed with thousands of travelers and we received presidents and world leaders,” said Zuhair Zomlot, coordinator of the Civil Aviation Authority in Gaza, pointing to parts of the site in various stages of decay. “Now it’s turned into a ruin, a waste dump. It’s a tragedy.”

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