Israel Denies Flooding Gaza, as IOF Fires at Farmers and Fishermen

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A Palestinian Bedouin boy makes his way despite the flooding in the village of al-Mughraqa south of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip on February 22, 2015. AFP/Mahmud Hams

Published Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Israel rejected on Monday allegations by the government of the besieged Gaza Strip that Israeli authorities had released storm-water into the coastal enclave.

In a statement, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said Israel did not operate dams in the south, contrary to claims that it had opened them deliberately to alleviate flooding in southern Occupied Palestine.

"The claim is entirely false, and southern Israel does not have any dams," the COGAT statement said. "Due to the recent rain, streams were flooded throughout the region with no connection to actions taken by the State of Israel."

"Prior to the storm," the statement added, Israel "allowed the transfer of four water pumps belonging to the Palestinian Water Authority from Israel into Gaza to supplement the 13 pumps already in the Gaza Strip in dealing with any potential flooding throughout the area."

However, the severe fuel shortages in Gaza has affected the besieged Palestinian territory's ability to effectively use water pumps.

According to the Jewish National Fund's website, in 1996 a giant system of reservoirs was constructed along the Besor River, which leads into the Gaza Valley.

The reservoirs were built to allow floodwater to be used to irrigate fields, while "dams erected in the riverbed halt the erosion caused by the swift water flow."

The reservoirs have a capacity of 7 million cubic meters, according to the site, and in drought years "reclaimed sewage water from the Tel Aviv metropolitan area can be channeled into them instead."

Hundreds of Palestinians were evacuated from their homes Sunday morning amid flooding in the Gaza Valley in the wake of a recent severe winter storm.

The Gaza Ministry of Interior said Sunday that civil defense services and teams from the Ministry of Public Works had evacuated more than 80 families from both sides of Wadi Gaza (the Gaza valley) after their homes flooded as water levels reached more than three meters.

Gaza has experienced flooding in recent days amid a major storm which saw drops in temperature and severe downpour.

The storm displaced dozens and caused hardship for tens of thousands, including many of the approximately 110,000 Palestinians left homeless by Israel's assault over summer.

Gaza civil defense services spokesman Mohammed al-Midana warned Sunday that further harm could be caused if Israel let more water flood into the area, noting that water is currently flowing at a high speed from the Israeli border through the valley and into the Mediterranean sea.

In December 2013, Israeli authorities also opened the reservoirs amid heavy flooding in the Gaza Strip. The resulting floods damaged dozens of homes and forced many families in the area from their homes.

In 2010, the reservoirs were opened as well, forcing 100 families from their homes. At the time, civil defense services said that they had managed to save seven people who had been at risk of drowning.

Evacuated families have been sent to shelters sponsored by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, in al-Bureij refugee camp and in al-Zahra neighborhood in the central Gaza Strip.

Wadi Gaza is a wetland located in the central Gaza Strip between al-Nuseirat refugee camp and al-Moghraqa. It flows from two streams — one of which the source runs from near Beersheba, and the other from near Hebron.

Israeli forces open fire at farmers and fishermen

Meanwhile, Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinian farmers east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Israeli troops patrolling the border fence fired at the farmers as they were tending land in the area, however no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, Israeli naval forces fired at fishermen off the coast of Gaza after they allegedly deviated from the designated fishing zone.

Israeli forces frequently shoot at farmers and other civilians inside the Gaza Strip if they approach large swathes of land near the border that the Israeli military has deemed off-limits to Palestinians.

The "security buffer zone" extends between 500 meters and 1,500 meters into the Strip, effectively turning local farms into no-go zones.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was looking into the incidents.

Israeli forces have previously fired at several fishermen claiming they had ventured beyond the six nautical miles limit allowed by the Israeli authorities, as opposed to the three miles assigned previously, as part of the Egypt-brokered ceasefire deal which ended its 51-day offensive on the Gaza strip, an assertion Palestinian authorities have rejected.

For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip by air, land and sea, killing 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, and injuring 10,626.

The Israeli offensive ended on August 26 with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire deal.

The assault left the densely populated enclave in ruins, displacing more than a quarter of Gaza's population of 1.7 million and leaving 100,000 people, mostly children, homeless.

According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, over 96,000 Palestinian family homes were damaged or destroyed during the aggression, including 7,000 homes that were completely lost. UNRWA has estimated that at least $720 million is needed to address the housing crisis caused by the conflict. Besides homes, the Israeli strikes targeted 30 hospitals and 27 health centers.

The restrictions on Gaza’s fishermen crippled the coastal enclave’s fishing industry and impoverished local fishermen.

According to a 2011 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, 90 percent of Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen are poor, an increase of 40 percent from 2008 as a direct result of Israeli limits on the fishing industry.

According to Nizar Ayyash, head of Gaza's Palestinian Fishermen's Union, some 50,000 Gazans earn a living from the fishing business. He estimated their combined losses during Israel's recent war at more than $6 million.

(Ma’an, Al-Akhbar)

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