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Egypt negotiates talks to develop Gaza’s offshore gas

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Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – As Israel and Lebanon attempted to resolve a dispute over offshore gas fields, Egypt worked with Israeli and Palestinian officials to unblock natural gas production off the coast of Gaza.

More than two decades after exploration began, the struggling Palestinian economy could reap huge benefits from natural gas reserves, and a Palestinian official has said a deal could be imminent.

Banners reading ‘Our gas is our right’ in Arabic and English appeared in Gaza City’s fishing port, calling on neighboring Egypt and Israel to relaunch a plan to develop Marine 1 and 2 fields in the Mediterranean .

The Palestinian Authority (PA) commissioned energy company British Gas to carry out gas exploration in the area in 1999.

A year later British Gas found Marine 1 some 30 kilometers (19 miles) offshore, and later the smaller Marine 2, but eventually pulled out of the contract.

The project was handed over to energy giant Shell in 2016 only to also pull out two years later due to Israeli objections and other disputes.

Since then, the Palestinians have sought investors in the $1.1 billion project to extract the 28 billion cubic meters (989 billion cubic feet) of natural gas.

The Islamist movement Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, but is not included in talks over its gas field MOHAMMED ABEDAFP

Israel has had sporadic talks over the years with the Palestinian Authority – but the Palestinian Authority has exercised no control over Gaza for the past decade and a half.

The Islamist movement Hamas ousted forces loyal to the PA from the territory in 2007. It too would like a share of the gas revenue.

Hamas and the secular Fatah movement, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, signed a reconciliation agreement on Thursday in their latest attempt to end the rift, but it is unclear whether the agreement will bear more fruit than its predecessors.

An Egyptian source told AFP that Cairo was “in contact with all parties, including Israel, to develop and take advantage of Gaza’s gas reserves, which would also support the Palestinian economy.”

Israeli green light

A senior PA official told AFP that “serious talks” were underway to reach a framework agreement by the end of the year.

Hamas holds protests to demand that Palestinian rights to natural resources be protected
Hamas holds protests to demand that Palestinian rights to natural resources be protected MOHAMMED ABEDAFP

The talks include the Palestinian engineering firm Consolidated Contractors Company, the Palestinian Investment Fund, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) and Israel.

“Once an agreement is signed, the Egyptian company EGAS will begin development work on the Marine 1 and 2 gas fields, with the aim of starting production within two years,” the official said under the cover of a statement. anonymity.

But “Israeli’s approval is needed” before work can begin, another PA official involved in the talks told AFP.

Contacted by AFP, Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar declined to comment.

The Palestinian official expressed hope that Egypt can convince Israel to greenlight the project and that the United States can influence the Jewish state, as it did during the maritime border talks brokered by the United States with Lebanon which bore fruit this week.

Gaza is plagued by power shortages and a limited fuel supply
Gaza is plagued by power shortages and a limited fuel supply Mohamed ABEDAFP

Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are all members of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, created in 2019 with Jordan, Cyprus, Greece and Italy to coordinate the management of gas resources in the region.

Israel also exports gas to Egypt through an undersea pipeline that runs along the coast of Gaza, some of which is then liquefied and shipped to Europe.

Hamas pressure

Hamas is growing impatient, staging protests to demand that Palestinian rights to gas resources be protected.

“We warn the occupation (Israel) against any violation of our rights to our maritime resources, especially the natural gas off our coasts,” said Suhail al-Hindi, a Hamas official in charge of managing the seas. natural resources.

Mazen al-Ajla, an economics professor at the Islamic University in Gaza, said Israel would never tolerate Hamas profiting from gas reserves, but any deal would at least require tacit approval from the Islamists.

“Israel insists that Hamas must not benefit from gas from Gaza as a condition of any agreement,” Ajla told AFP.

“I still believe that Egypt can solve this problem by putting pressure on Hamas.

“From a legal point of view, Hamas has nothing to do with the gas in Gaza, but since it controls the enclave, it could easily obstruct” the project.