U.S. seeks to avert 'water war' between Israel, Lebanon
The United States has intervened in a dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the Hasbani River, the leading artery in the region.
"The United States wants to solve the problem through diplomatic steps," a U.S. official said. "A water war in the Middle East is the last thing we want and it could convert other water disputes into military conflicts."
Plans by Lebanon to divert the river for its southern villages could damage the Sea of Galilee and leave northern Israel with inadequate water resources, Middle East Newsline reported.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said authorities will start pumping water from the Hasbani for its southern villages.
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"Lebanon's decision to benefit from the Wazzani River's waters to irrigate its parched land and villages in the south is final and irreversible," Lahoud said. "The Israeli threats will not keep international agreements and documents from being implemented."
Israel has warned that the Lebanese project, expected to be completed by December, will leave northern Israeli communities parched of water. The diversion will also severely damage Israel's Sea of Galilee, which receives water from the Hasbani.
The State Department has sent a delegation of water experts to southern Lebanon. On Monday, the delegates, accompanied by U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Vincent Battle, toured the Wazzani River and photographed the site.
Lebanon plans to pump 315 million cubic feet of water a year from the Hasbani and Wazzani rivers, an increase from the current 245 million cubic feet.
U.S. officials said Washington and Jerusalem have discussed a diplomatic response to a Lebanese project to divert the Hasbani River. They said Israel has agreed to refrain from a military response amid accusations that the Beirut government violated a decades-old understanding in sharing the water of the Hasbani.
"When there was local pumping, it didn't bother us," Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon said. "What we see now is to place a pump to serve the entire southern Lebanon. We are following the matter." [Worldtribune.com - 17 Sept 2002]