Palestinians filling bottles and jerricans with drinking water at the Al-Shati refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, March 22, 2017. Hosam Salem / NurPhoto

Israel Advances Gaza Water Project Amid Reports on Progress in Hamas Talks

Passage of equipment to construct desalination plant and water reservoirs okayed by Defense Ministry

Israel has permitted over the past several days the movement of a shipping container carrying equipment to help complete the installment of a large desalination plant in the Gaza Strip

The equipment will also enable Palestinians to construct eight large water reservoirs. Over the past several days, senior officials in the Israeli military have been holding meetings to ensure that more reservoirs will be built in Gaza in the near future.

The news on the construction of the desalination plant came amid reports on progress in talks on a Hamas-Israel deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a trip abroad to follow developments closely, and the security cabinet is expected to convene Sunday to discuss the emerging deal.

>> Gaza's indifference will spell its end | Opinion

The Defense Ministry gave the green light several days ago for the passage of ten containers and additional equipment to construct the desalination plant and the reservoirs, Haaretz has learned.

The entire project, carried out by American companies that are operating under a Gazan contractor, is slated to cost 60 million shekels ($16 million). The project was postponed for months because of the security situation in Gaza and Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods into the Strip.

The approval was granted a few days before Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that the Kerem Shalom border crossing will be shuttered until further notice in response to continued Palestinian assaults on Israeli territory via airborne firebombs.

After a delay of months and on the backdrop of reports of an upcoming agreement between Israel and Hamas, which could include the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held in Gaza as well as the liberation of two Israeli civilians, Israel decided to allow for the entry of containers with the equipment necessary to install the large desalination plant as well as eight water reservoirs in the strip. In the past few days senior IDF officials have been meeting with a number of actors to enable the immediate construction of additional reservoirs.

Over recent months, the Israeli army has insisted that something should be done in order to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, particularly on the issue of water. The decision to allow for the new desalinisation plant to be built was taken in coordination with foreign actors and is aimed at providing a partial solution to the crisis.

Progressively in the past few weeks, Israel’s approach has shifted. 
Major General Kamil Abu Rokon, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Sharon Biton, head of the operations department in the office of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, as well as Col. Iyad Sarhan, are involved. 

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