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Israel expresses concern, blames Palestinian leadership for Gaza water crisis

April 10, 2017 5:36 P.M. (Updated: April 11, 2017 3:41 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities -- which have maintained a crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip for nearly ten years -- have contacted international organizations to urge them to address the deteriorating water situation in the small Palestinian enclave, Israeli media reported on Sunday.

A United Nations report warned in 2012 that water from Gaza’s sole aquifer would become completely undrinkable by the end of 2016, with damages becoming irreversible by 2020. In November, the World Bank stated that only 10 percent of the population in Gaza had access to safe drinking water.

According to the Army Radio, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, contacted the Israeli Foreign Ministry and international representatives -- including United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov -- on the issue in the past week.

For the second time in the span of six months, the Times of Israel reported, COGAT head Yoav Mordechai called on international aid organizations to advance projects to build desalination plants in Gaza to alleviate the water crisis.

According to the Times of Israel, Mordechai attributed the grave shortage of drinking water in the Gaza Strip to “excessive pumping,” and blamed both the Hamas-led de facto government in Gaza and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) for stalling the process of improving water infrastructure in Gaza -- implicitly attributing responsibility for the humanitarian crisis to internal Palestinian political tensions instead of the Israeli blockade.

Mordechai reportedly blamed Hamas for refusing to connect a recently completed desalination plant built by UNICEF in Khan Yunis to Gaza’s electrical grid, while saying that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had not responded to an Israeli offer to double its supply of water to Gaza from 10 to 20 million cubic meters per year.

Palestinians in the densely populated coastal enclave have suffered from severe electricity and drinking water shortages over the years, with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopting a report in January in support of lifting the decade-long siege of the territory to improve the dire humanitarian situation there.

Ending the Israeli blockade, which it called “collective punishment” imposed on Palestinians in contravention of international law, would be the only way to ensure Palestinians in Gaza have access to “basic and inalienable human rights,” the report concluded, echoing similar statements from UN agencies, foreign governments, and rights groups over the years.

In November, Gaza’s electricity authority stated that a number of infrastructure projects -- including a World Bank-funded project to repair the sewage system in northern Gaza which has been on hold for two years, and the UNICEF water desalination project -- had all been delayed due to insufficient electricity access, which the World Bank said was in part due to years-long delays in obtaining Israeli government approval to dedicate power lines for the construction.

Israel has also severely limited the import of cement and other construction material into Gaza, claiming that such materials could be used by resistance groups, but in effect hindering improvements to Gaza’s fragile infrastructure and the reconstruction of Palestinian homes following three devastating military offensives since 2008.

COGAT’s appeal for the UN to invest more efforts and funds into aid projects in Gaza contrasted with Israeli officials’ repeated accusations that the international body harbors a “bias” against Israel because of its regular denunciations of Israeli violations of human rights and international law.

While Israel officially disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has argued that “Israel continues to bear legal responsibility” for upholding Palestinian civilians’ safety and welfare in Gaza under international humanitarian law, despite most such initiatives currently being funded by foreign aid.

However, only 46 percent of aid pledged to help rebuild Gaza following the 2014 Israeli military offensive had been delivered as of September, the World Bank reported, stating at the time that donor aid was $1.3 billion behind schedule two years after the devastating conflict.
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