The Madama village's spring was deliberately contaminated and its water supply system was sabotaged 10 days ago, village council head Ayed Kamal said yesterday.

This is the sixth time in the past three years that the spring, the only source of water for the village's 1,700 residents, and the water system, have been deliberately damaged.

The village is near the extremist Yitzhar settlement and its outposts in the West Bank.

An Oxfam delegation, accompanied by an IDF force for protection, set out last Thursday to gauge the damage. The Oxfam group needed protection after armed Israelis opened fire on workers repairing the spring and water pipes on two previous occasions during 2002.

Talia Somech, a spokeswoman for the IDF's civil administration, told Haaretz that the IDF learned of the damage only during the visit on Thursday and that the matter would be passed on to the police.

Kamal told Haaretz that 10 days ago a group of Israelis, some of them armed, clashed with shepherds near the spring. That evening the water stopped flowing to the villagers' houses. On Thursday they found that the water pipes had been broken and the cement encasing one of the water wells had been smashed to pieces. The debris had been thrown into the well.

For three years - from the end of 2000 to the end of 2003 - unknown perpetrators repeatedly sabotaged the water system, smashing the water pipes and throwing building waste into the water holes. During these years the villagers had no water supply.

Oxfam financed the encasement of the pipes above the surface with concrete and built an iron net around the water holes to protect them. However, once again the concrete and pipes were smashed and the drinking water fouled with dirty diapers and other waste.

In November 2003, Italian volunteers helped the villagers seal the water hole openings with concrete. But in a few months the villagers started suffering from liver infections and other stomach diseases. The contaminated water was banned for use until January this year, when after heavy rainfalls the pollution was reduced. The villagers started using it again, until 10 days ago.

Kamal said the Palestinian Authority stopped passing complaints onto the IDF because it fails to act on Palestinians' complaints against settlers.

An Oxfam source said the group would prefer investing the funds in new projects, rather than in repairing repeated sabotage carried out by Israeli citizens.