Israel says it is restarting water supply to southern Gaza Strip

Energy Minister Israel Katz says decision made in conversation between Netanyahu and Biden, will help push civilian population southward

Palestinians collect water from a water tap, amid drinking water shortages, in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Oct. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Palestinians collect water from a water tap, amid drinking water shortages, in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Oct. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Israel said on Sunday it was restarting the supply of water to parts of the Gaza Strip after shutting it off following Hamas’s devastating terrorist infiltration on October 7, in which over 1,300 Israelis were killed.

Energy Minister Israel Katz confirmed the news in a statement, saying that water would begin to flow again to the southern portion of the narrow enclave — where Israel has urged residents to flee to in recent days.

“The decision to restart water to the south of the Gaza Strip was agreed upon between Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and US President [Joe] Biden, and will push the civilian population to the southern [part of the] Strip,” Katz said.

Since Friday, Israel has been urging Gazans to move out of the Strip’s north. The military says it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a major campaign against Hamas terrorists in the north, where they have extensive networks of tunnels and bunkers. Hamas urged people to stay in their homes and, per the military, has been hindering movement south with roadblocks.

The decision to restart the water supply was publicized earlier by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who told CNN that his Israeli counterparts had informed him of the move.

“I have been in touch with my Israeli counterparts just within the last hour who reported to me that they have, in fact, turned the water pipe back on in southern Gaza,” Sullivan told CNN on Sunday morning.

A man attatches a bucket of water to a hook to refill a water tank at a home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern of Gaza Strip on Octobers 15, 2023. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

A US lawmaker told The Times of Israel on Saturday that he had been informed by a senior Israeli official that Jerusalem will allow food, water and medicine into Gaza after imposing a siege on the enclave, as it appears to be gearing up for a ground operation aimed at destroying Hamas.

The lawmaker said Saturday that Israel had not committed to also allowing electricity and fuel supplies into Gaza, which it says are not covered by the same rules under laws of armed conflict.

Last week, Israel had vowed to not turn on any water or electricity to Gaza until the estimated 150-200 hostages being held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been freed.

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be turned on, no water pump will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” Katz posted on X on Thursday. “Humanitarianism for humanitarianism. And no one can preach morality to us.”

Palestinians line up to refill on water in Rafah refugee camp in the southern of Gaza Strip, on October 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The situation has seen taps run dry across the territory. When water does trickle from pipes, the meager flow lasts no more than 30 minutes each day and is so contaminated with sewage and seawater that it’s undrinkable, residents said.

In normal times, the coastal enclave — which has struggled under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 — relies on Israel for one-third of all available drinking water, the territory’s water authority said.

Its other water sources include desalination plants in the Mediterranean Sea and a subterranean aquifer, drained and damaged from years of overuse. When Israel severed electricity to Gaza, the desalination plants all shut down. So did the wastewater treatment stations.

That has left the entire territory without running water. People buy dwindling jugs from municipal sanitation stations, scour for bottles in supermarkets or drink whatever fetid liquid may dribble out of their pipes.

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw at least 1,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing over 1,300 people and seizing 150-200 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — men, women, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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