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Israel to build pipeline for collecting sewage from Gaza after treatment facility closes

July 1, 2017 11:12 A.M. (Updated: July 1, 2017 10:38 P.M.)
A Palestinian worker cleans the street in front of war graffiti near the destroyed Al-Saraya Hamas headquarters in Gaza City November 22, 2012. (Photo: AFP/ Mahmud Hams/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Following Israel’s dramatic cuts to Gaza’s electricity supply, upon the request of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israeli authorities have decided to construct a sewage pipeline for neighborhoods in the besieged coastal enclave, after Gaza’s sewage treatment facility was forced to close due to lack of power supply, Israeli media reported on Saturday.

Israeli media outlet Ynet reported that Israel's Sderot municipality and the Shaar Hanegev regional council that border the small Palestinian territory were informed of the plan this week, which would include receiving sewage from Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun in Gaza through a pipeline constructed near the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing.

The wastewater would then be stored in facilities located in Kibbutz Erez, before being transferred to treatment facilities located in Sderot and Shaar Hanegev.

According to Ynet, sewage from the besieged coastal enclave has polluted the area of Moshav Netiv Haasara in the Negev of southern Israel, where the sewage flows into and is stored. Israeli authorities draw the sewage once every few days, Ynet reported.

Alon Shuster, head of the Shaar Hanegev regional council, reportedly said that Israel should “devote great efforts to the flow of dedicated electricity to the sewage treatment plant in Beit Lahiya,” rejecting the idea of absorbing more water from Gaza, where only 10 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water.

He said that water used to operate the sewage pipeline should instead be used for agriculture in Gaza.

Israel’s water authority reportedly said that the matter was an “emergency” measure aimed at stopping “the massive flow of sewage” from the besieged territory into Israel, and added that the issue existed “long before and without any connection to the electricity problems in Gaza.”

A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma'an that they did not have any further information on this development, but would look into reports.

In May, the PA decided to slash funding for Israeli fuel to the coastal enclave, and requested that Israeli authorities dramatically reduce its supply of electricity to Gaza, which was already reeling from lack of adequate access to electricity and fuel.

As a result of agreements between Hamas, the de facto leaders in Gaza, and Egyptian authorities, Egypt imported millions of liters of fuel into the territory, averting a full humanitarian collapse in the coastal enclave as Israel began to gradually reduce its supply of electricity.

However, it remained unclear if such an agreement was a long-term solution for Gaza’s electricity and fuel crisis, or would be just a temporary measure.

Despite the PA denying the allegations, it is widely believed among Palestinians and international critics that the PA’s recent policies in Gaza are aimed at putting pressure on Hamas to relinquish control of the besieged coastal enclave and hand over the territory to the PA.

Other policies implemented by the PA in recent weeks, including allegedly halting medical referrals to patients in Gaza to receive medical treatment outside of the territory -- which led to the deaths of 3 newborns and 11 others over the previous three months -- has been condemned by Hamas, the international community, and many Palestinians.

At the same time, patients in Gaza have been forced to apply for permits to exit the territory for treatment owing to the lack of medicine and equipment after the PA cut its funding to the medical sector in the besieged enclave, which has seen the typical $4 million monthly budget of Gaza’s health ministry plummet to just $500,000.

Meanwhile, the United Nation's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov visited Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and other officials in Gaza in order to find a solution to the escalating humanitarian crisis in the territory.

Al-Hayat newspaper reported Friday that Mladenov had suggested that the European Union (EU) pay for the PA-imposed diesel tax on fuel needed to operate Gaza’s sole power plant, which shut down in April after Gaza’s electricity officials said they could not afford the PA tax that doubled the price of operating the plant.

In return, the EU would be permitted to establish an oversight body in the coastal enclave, according to al-Hayat.

The two sides are also reportedly attempting to find a solution to resume the full amount of electricity supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip.

Gaza, which marked its 10th year under an Israeli-enforced blockade last month, has struggled for years with power shortages due to limited fuel access and degraded infrastructure.

Egypt, which borders Gaza in the south, has also upheld the blockade following President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2013, subsequently closing the Rafah crossing to Palestinians.

The UN has warned that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and a decade of Israel's blockade.
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