Rabat – The Spanish army is currently conducting construction works on the two islets Isla de Tierra and Isla de Mar, north of Al Hoceima, according to Spanish press agency EFE.
The two islets, occupied by the Spanish government since the 16th century, have long been the center of political friction between Morocco and Spain. Morocco has contested Spain’s sovereignty over this unanhabited islets located 300 meters off the Moroccan city of A Hoceima.
The agency reported that there has been constant movement of building materials in the last two days between Alhucemas Island, which is home to a military garrison, and the two islets, which make up the “archipelago of Alhucemas.”
Two military tents have already been erected on the two islets and are clearly visible from the Moroccan beaches of Nekkor and Souani.
The islets are known for harboring pateras used by sub-Saharan migrants crossing the Mediterranean to seek refuge in Spain.
The last-known episode was recorded in early August, when 37 immigrants were able to reach the rock and from there moved to Melilla. Fourteen others sub-Saharans were intercepted by the Moroccan Royal Navy, which returned them to Morocco.
Works on the islets coincide with the end of a summer of high migration in the Alboran Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar, with arrival numbers literally doubling over a year to reach 15,000 according to data from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior.
According to EFE, the Spanish army has not yet officially disclosed the nature of its plans on the islet, nor whether the materials are being carried out with knowledge of the Moroccan Government, although the works are perfectly visible from the coast of Al Hoceima, where there the Moroccan Royal Navy is permanently present. The Moroccan government, which convened its council last Thursday, did not comment on the work on these two islets.
The sudden movement of the Spanish army on the two islets comes two months after the 15th anniversary of the Leila Islet crisis between the neighboring countries.
On July 18, 2002, commandos from the Spanish army landed on Perejil island in the Strait of Gibraltar to remove a handful of Moroccan soldiers who landed there a week before.
The operation took place without bloodshed, and Madrid had reestablished the status quo” over this uninhabited island 200 meters from the Moroccan coast.
Nonetheless, a serious crisis broke out between the two countries, which necessitated diplomatic mediation of the United States.