Israel cries foul, warns of disaster as sewage flows in from across Gaza border

Officials call overflow of effluent into south a deliberate act; Hamas threatened ‘consequences’ after Israel cut its fuel imports due to arson attacks, shutting down power plant

Raw sewage flows near the main Gaza Strip power plant serving the Hamas-run Palestinian territory, south of Gaza City, on June 24, 2019. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Raw sewage flows near the main Gaza Strip power plant serving the Hamas-run Palestinian territory, south of Gaza City, on June 24, 2019. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israeli officials warned of an ecological disaster in southern Israel on Saturday as sewage from the Gaza Strip spilled across the border.

The officials alleged that the outflow was a deliberate act by Palestinians in the Strip.

“In recent days, Palestinians in the Strip threatened that if there was not fuel for sewage generators in the Strip they will close, and all the flow will go to Israel. Apparently they went through with the threat,” one official said, according to the Ynet news site.

Israel restricted fuel imports through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Strip earlier this month as waves of arson balloons ignited scores of fires in southern Israel. The border closure led to the shutdown of Gaza’s sole power plant last week.

Hamas called the closure of the commercial crossing an aggressive action and a crime for which the Jewish state “bears all consequences and repercussions.”

There are already estimated thousands of cubic meters of overflow spilling into Israel, the report said.

Residents of southern Israel near the northern part of Gaza reported a strong odor of sewage.

Israeli officials fear that if sewage facilities in Gaza do not resume operations, the situation will deteriorate further, and thousands more cubic meters of sewage will flood the area.

Illustrative: An IDF soldier stands in front of a fire near the Be’eri kibbutz in southern Israel that was sparked by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The treatment plant that ceased operating handles sewage from the Gaza communities of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. After it stopped operations, the sewage was redirected to the Hanoun riverbed, which crosses the border and connects to the Shikma River in southern Israel.

The Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council and Israel’s Water Authority previously constructed a dam to block the sewage from Gaza, but in recent days the sewage overflowed and spilled into Israel.

The sewage from the Gazan side is now accumulating during the day, and being released all at once at night, overwhelming the dam, Ynet said.

A sewage pump on the Israeli side has also been overwhelmed.

Trucks with pumps were sent to the area on Thursday morning in an attempt to control the overflow, Ynet reported.

The Water Authority said, “The unusual rate of flow that was recorded recently [is] a result of targeted activities by officials in the Gaza Strip to pollute the Hanoun River and Shikma River, as part of [what is] a very severe ecological hazard.”

The Water Authority is working on a long-term solution to the problem, which is expected to be completed in several months.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, said, “Without supporting Hamas or their actions in any way, the procedure in Israel is that when sewage plants fail, for whatever reason, the sewage is diverted to a nearby stream that generally flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

“The consequence of the Israeli military’s decision to stop the fuel [that helps to power Gaza’s sewage treatment plants, among many other facilities] should have been fully thought through and should be reversed before an even higher price is paid by the environment and public health in Gaza, Israel and Egypt.”

Tensions between Israel and Gaza terror groups have been climbing in recent weeks, with waves of arson balloons from the Strip igniting scores of fires in southern Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces carrying out near-nightly retaliatory raids in response.

Overnight Thursday-Friday, Palestinian terrorists in the Strip fired 12 rockets toward Israel, in another major escalation. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted most of the projectiles, but one house in the city of Sderot was damaged.

Another rocket was fired at Israel on Friday evening, sending thousands scrambling for bomb shelters as they sat for their Shabbat evening meals.

On Tuesday, Gaza officials announced that the Strip’s sole power station had run out of fuel and would stop operating.

Gaza municipalities announced in a joint statement at the time that water would be provided only irregularly. They said that sewage treatment plants would also experience shutdowns, and waste would instead be pumped out into the open sea.

The apparent uptick in fighting late Thursday and early Friday comes amid truce efforts being brokered by Egypt.

A ceasefire in place for years, which has already been renewed several times, is bolstered by millions of dollars in financial aid from Qatar to Gaza. But complaints from Hamas that Israel has failed to live up to its side of the bargain have been accompanied by sporadic flare-ups on the border.

The overflow of sewage from Gaza is not a new problem for southern Israel.

In June 2019, reports said Israel planned to build a pipeline to handle the raw sewage from Gaza and process it on the Israeli side as the overflow polluted groundwater in Israel.

Reports at the time said the treatment system collapsed in 2017 due to Hamas mismanagement of the territory.

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