Gaza’s ruined airport and unbuilt seaport fuel dreams of independence

The wreckage of Gaza’s former international airport in the southern city of Rafah, opened with fanfare in 1998 by Bill Clinton, then bombed by Israel a few years later. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Routes to connect Gaza with the world would transform the territory’s economy – and are a sticking point in peace talks

It was a powerful symbol of the Palestinian state that never was: Gaza international airport, opened in December 1998 with fanfare and red carpet by then US president Bill Clinton, and seen as a gateway to both the world and a better future.

Within a few years, as the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, took hold, Israel bombed first the control tower, then the runway, and finally the elegant Moroccan-designed terminal. Gaza’s airport is now a ruin in the desert, with a few squawking chickens pecking in the sand. The only sign of air traffic is the constant hum of overhead drones and the occasional roar of F16 fighter planes.

But in recent days, the airport – along with a seaport, never built despite 20 years of planning – has become a crucial sticking point in fraught negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to agree terms on which to end this summer’s brutal war. Hamas demands both ports as entry and exit points for people and goods; Israel’s refusal is based on fears that traffic will include smuggled arms.

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