At boiling point

River water sharing project brings Israel and Lebanon on the brink of war

Published: Tuesday 15 October 2002

israel and Lebanon are at loggerheads once again. But this time the bone of contention is Wazzani river, which flows from Lebanon into the Sea of Galilee. Two years after Israel withdrew from Lebanese territory, diplomatic parleys are on again by the us to prevent a flare-up between the two nations over the sharing of water from the Wazzani, a tributary of Hasbani river.

In a history of conflicts over water sharing between the two nations, the present tensions began when Lebanon began a project to increase water supply from the Wazzani to its neighbouring villages. At present, Lebanon is withdrawing 7 million cubic metres (mcm) of water annually, but the project will augment the supply by another 2 mcm.

Israel is opposed to the project as a major share of water for the nation's main water reservoir, the lake Tiberias comes from the river. Reacting to the project initiated about two months back, the Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon said: "It will create grounds for war between the two nations." Lebanon, too , went on the offensive with its militant guerrilla group Hezbollah warning Israel: "We will cut off Israel's hands if they use military force." Meanwhile, Lebanon claims that the arrangement complies with international norms which govern the rights of states to use water sources on their own territory.

Water has been a major cause of Arab-Israeli wars in the drought-stricken west Asia. In 1964, Arab states tried to divert waters from the Jordan river, which flows into Israel. This had resulted in artillery attacks. Israel and Lebanon have been on the warpath over Litani river, which runs parallel to the Hasbani. Pacts were signed on water sharing in the past, but they have done little to contain the crisis.

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