Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Israel Hits Blair's Flagship Sewage Project in Gaza

The Independent, January 29, 2009 - One of Tony Blair's flagship projects as international Middle East envoy – and one of his most concrete achievements to date – was emergency work on a sewage plant in northern Gaza to stop it overflowing and endangering the lives of some 10,000 people.

Now, it has emerged that Israeli forces severely damaged parts of the plant during their 22-day offensive and the project – which was due for completion at the end of this week – has been delayed for two months, with repairs expected to cost $200,000 (£140,000).

Although the damage to Mr Blair's project close to the border with Israel in northern Gaza is modest compared with the overall destruction across the Strip and a Gazan death toll put by the Palestinian Ministry of Health at more than 1,200, it has considerable political and diplomatic significance. It is virtually the only major development aid project which has been allowed to go ahead since Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza 18 months ago....

Officials in the Quartet envoy's office have already begun fresh negotiations with Israeli ministers to bring in replacement components for the repairs though it was not yet clear who will supply the concrete after the destruction of the Abu Eida works. Gaza's biggest ready-mix concrete factory, allowed to import cement especially to supply the sewage project, has also been flattened by Israeli bombing. Mr Blair's office confirmed yesterday that the Abu Eida works had been its earmarked concrete supplier.

According to a preliminary Palestinian Water Authority assessment, seen by The Independent, the main damage during Israel's military campaign was inflicted on the infiltration basins, including their electrical control room, and the main ductile iron pressure pipe. Their report claims that the upper chambers at five of the basins were "deliberately destroyed" by bulldozers and that fuel tanks have been badly damaged with all the diesel being poured out and one tank being thrown into one of the basins, with consequent pollution to ground water....

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