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Ayed Kamal, the mayor of Madama village, was hosting a delegation of Oxfam representatives from England and water technicians from nearby Nablus, when he received a phone call yesterday reporting that armed Israelis had attacked a resident of the neighboring village of Asira a Qibliya while he was harvesting olives.

The Oxfam delegates and the water officials from Nablus had just returned from a visit to Madama's main water supply - a spring the Palestinian Health Ministry had warned against using early this year because of pollution.

The British development experts and the Nablus water technicians were trying to find out how to find the source of the pollution. Oxfam adopted Madama two years ago.

Four soldiers, including two staffers from the Civil Administration, also took part in the trip to the top of the hill where the spring is located. Oxfam had asked for the escort to protect its workers and guests from possible bullying by settlers.

Madama residents, like the residents of other villages bordering settlements in the Nablus area - have long complained about "mysterious" fires in their groves and fields, and about armed settlers who try to chase the Palestinians off their lands.

Sometimes the Palestinians file a complaint through the District Coordination Office, which is supposed to notify the Civil Administration. According to Kamal, there's never a result from the complaints.

In 1928, the British laid a pipe from the wells of the main fountain to the town, and since then there has been running water in the village, at least in winter and spring. But from the end of 200 through 2003, water stopped reaching the villagers.

An inspection of the pipes found someone had sabotaged them, stuffing dirty diapers and dead chickens into the main wells. Oxfam financed the repairs but the pipes were repeatedly sabotaged.

When the wells were covered with concrete, the openings covered with iron grates, the cement was smashed and the wells once again became a receptacle for trash meant to disable the water system. Twice in September 2002, Israelis shot at Oxfam and village workers trying to repair the system. The work was finally ceased in 2003, when it became evident it was going nowhere.

In November 2003, Italian volunteers and villagers once again cemented the open wells closed to prevent trash from being thrown inside. The village celebrated the return of running water. But within a few months, villagers began suffering from liver infections. New examinations of the wells in February and August this year showed the water was still polluted.

Now, Oxfam technicians have to check all three wells. Each will be examined separately, two visits apiece. Each visit requires a military escort to protect the workers. That means coordinating with the army.

It took two months to arrange the escort for yesterday's visit to the wells. At this rate, the full examination - not the repairs - will take more than a year. Oxfam worries that the source of pollution is not the wells but the main spring but they find it hard to believe that anyone will allow them to examine whether the sewage from the settlement of Yitzhar is what is polluting the Madama fountain.