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Israel says it backs Gaza Strip desalination plant
by Staff Writers
Marseille, France (AFP) March 13, 2012

Israel said Tuesday it backed Palestinian plans to build a desalination plant in the Gaza Strip and was willing if requested to provide its skills for the project.

Asked by AFP on the sidelines of the World Water Forum if Israel supported the scheme, Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau said, "By all means."

"We have been waiting for such projects for many, many years. It is high time, almost 20 years after (the) Oslo (Accords on Palestinian autonomy), that they will start working and take responsibility for handling their own things," he said.

"I would like to see more such projects under way."

On Monday, the Palestinian Authority lobbied at the Water Forum for a desalination facility, costing more than 350 million euros ($450 million), to provide 1.6 million Gazans with fresh water by 2020.

According to a 2009 World Bank report, between 90 and 95 percent of the water available in Gaza is not fit for human consumption.

Surging population growth and overpumping of ground water has caused the aquifer to drop alarmingly, causing a rise in salinity from the sea.

"In Gaza, they have been responsible in its entirety for the underground aquifer since 1994," Landau said. "It is totally destroyed. That's why desalination for Gaza is highly important."

Landau said in response to a question that Israel would be "absolutely" willing if requested to lend its desalination skills to the project.

"Our expertise is available to all of our friends, including some of those who don't accept us there, which is the Palestinians. We would like to see their projects going on. They however say they want to take care of their own needs, which is fine with us."

The Gaza Strip is a flashpoint for violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

On Tuesday, Israel and militants in Gaza began observing an Egyptian-brokered truce after four days of violence in which 25 Gazans were killed and 200 rockets were fired at Israel.

In 1998, the territory inaugurated an international airport, but it was destroyed in Israeli raids three years later.

Asked whether the desalination plant could also get caught up in the violence, Landau said, "it's an excellent question."

"But an underlying or even more important question is why we have the terror in the first place. Without terror, many good industries, including the desalination plant, should long be in place," he said.

Landau also called on Palestinian-governed areas in the West Bank to tackle sewage problems.

"They let it from the mountains where they live pour down the riverbeds and to our areas on the coastal plains, where at the same time they are not only polluting the rivers but these waters infiltrate to the underground aquifer which is the body of drinking water both for them and for us," he said.

"This is something that is totally unacceptable."

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