Damaging History

Hamas criticized for destroying historical sites

Harbor of Gaza City / AP
April 15, 2013

The Palestinian Authority has failed to respond to U.N. reports that the military wing of Hamas is demolishing ancient historical sites in Gaza in order to construct a terrorist training facility.

Hamas’s military arm, known as Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is reported to have "bulldozed a part of the ancient Anthedon Harbor in northern Gaza along the Mediterranean Sea" in order to expand a military training camp, according to al-Monitor.

The destruction of important ancient archeological sites has sparked criticism from regional organizations and led the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to demand an explanation.

UNESCO petitioned the PA late last month "to clarify what is being done on the site," UNESCO spokesman Roni Amelan said in an interview. The letter was sent to the Permanent Delegation of Palestine to UNESCO, one of the few U.N. bodies to accept Palestine as a member.

The PA has not yet responded to UNESCO’s letter, the full text of which is not publicly available, Amelan noted.

Ambassador Elias Wadih Sanbar, the PA’s representative to UNESCO, did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for further comment about the matter.

The Anthedon Harbor is believed to be "the first known seaport of Gaza," evidencing some of the earliest links between Europe and early Middle Eastern cultures, according to UNESCO. The U.N. body has sought to designate the area an international heritage site.

"The present site consists of a variety of elements which spread in the area from the seashore, including the underwater archaeology, to the inland: The ruins of a Roman temple and a section of a wall have been uncovered, as well as Roman artisan and living quarters, including a series of villas, testifying of the city of Anthedon," according to UNESCO. "Mosaic floors, warehouses, and fortified structures are found in the area."

Remains and artifacts dating back to the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods can be found at the site, according to UNESCO.

Hamas officials admitted the archeological site would be disturbed in order to expand a military training facility, which critics dub a terrorist training ground.

"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," Muhammad Khela, Gaza’s deputy minister of tourism, was quoted as saying by al-Monitor.

The destruction of Gaza’s archeological sites has led watchdog groups and other human rights advocates to express great concern.

U.N. Watch exerted pressure on UNESCO Monday to resolve the issue and provide the public with answers.

"U.N. Watch is alarmed by the reported destruction by Hamas of parts of the ancient Anthedon Harbor in Gaza for use as a terrorist training camp," the group wrote in an open letter to UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova. "We urge you to bring the matter immediately before the UNESCO executive board."

UNESCO’s executive committee is holding meetings this week in Paris. The body is not currently scheduled to discuss this matter.

"That the UNESCO executive has so far failed to place the Hamas destruction and cynical abuse of this site on its agenda underscores the tragic politicization and diversion of the agency's mission to protect world culture and heritage," wrote Hillel Neuer, U.N. Watch’s executive director.

The controversy comes amid great upheaval in the PA.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned over the weekend, sparking great concern among Western governments that considered the reformer one of their prime allies.

He reportedly had a strained relationship with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been cited by critics as one of the Palestinian government’s most corrupt politicians.

Abbas had been contemplating firing Fayyad for months, according to reports.