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Nando Times

Israel warns Lebanon, Syria on water rights

The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (March 14, 2001 5:35 p.m. EST) -Alarmed by a new pumping station in Lebanon, a senior Israeli official said Wednesday that Israel has warned Lebanon and Syria it will "not be able to ignore" violation of its water rights.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israel sent "a very sharp message" through the United Nations to Syria and Lebanon, warning that diverting the waters of the Hasbani River would violate international conventions.

Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the water issue is "to be or not to be, to live or die." He said Israel "cannot let such a thing pass."

U.N. officials said work on the pumping station on the banks of the Hasbani River, near the border with Israel, began last month but that it is not yet operational. The Hasbani contributes 25 percent of the water in the Jordan River, one of Israel's prime water sources.

The head of the Israeli water company Mekorot, Uri Saguy, warned Lebanon against changing the distribution of water in the region.

"Whoever takes unilateral action will find himself with a unilateral reaction," said Saguy. "There is no water in the Middle East. Therefore, understandings must be reached. If not, it can turn into a war or a forceful confrontation."

In Lebanon, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri confirmed that work is under way to pump water at the confluence of the Hasbani and Wazzani rivers, and accused Israel of stealing water from Lebanon.

Israel is suffering its third straight year of below-average rainfall. Water in the Sea of Galilee, from which the country draws 40 percent of its drinking water, has receded to one of the lowest levels in years.

On Tuesday, Mekorot said it may soon have to stop drawing water from the lake. The company also said it planned to increase the price of drinking water.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 14, 2001

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