Government Mulls Bulding Joint Israeli-Jordanian Airport in Aqaba

New venture to replace airport in Eilat; officials also consider establishing new airport in Timna region.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz will present the government later this month with a proposal for the establishment of a new airport near Eilat.

The ministry is mulling two alternatives: an exclusively Israeli airport in the Timna region, a project which is currently in its advanced planning stages, or a joint Israeli-Jordanian venture in the city of Aqaba.

Mofaz, who toured the airport in Eilat on Thursday, instructed ministry officials as well as the Israel Airports Authority to examine the economic ramifications of both plans on the agenda.

The need to move the Eilat airport from its present location arose many years ago. Following the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, the government moved to build a joint Israeli-Jordanian airport. Talks on the matter were even initiated between officials in Jerusalem and their counterparts in the Hashemite kingdom.

Due to the outbreak of the "Al-Aqsa intifada" and the continued foot-dragging by Amman, the government decided to erect the new airport on Israeli soil.

Initially, planners decided on a site in Ein-Avrona, however that option was abandoned following a protracted battle with environmental activists.

The Airports Authority allocated NIS 14 million for a new airport near Timna. To this point, a third of that sum has been used to advance the project.

The joint Israeli-Jordanian option was given new life this week after Vice Premier Shimon Peres, whose portfolio also includes responsibility for the development of the Negev and Galilee, agreed with Jordan's King Abdullah II to re-examine the issue following a meeting between the two in Petra.

During his tour of Eilat, Mofaz was accompanied by IAA director-general Gabi Ofir and Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi.

Halevi emphasized to his guests the need to relocate the Eilat airport in order to better utilize the real estate in the city center on which the airport now stands for projects which would benefit the local residents.

In the event that the airport is built on Israeli territory, the party that wins the rights to build the project would also own the property rights to the territory which would be evacuated in the center of Eilat.