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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK
Lebanon hails 'liberation of water'
Wazzani villagers
Villagers have waited decades for the water supply
Lebanon has begun pumping water from a tributary of the River Jordan to supply a southern border village, despite opposition from Israel.


This is the first step towards liberating our water, a symbol of sovereignty and simple rights

Government official Qablan Qablan
At a ceremony, government official Qablan Qablan said the opening of a pumping station on the Hasbani river was the first step towards liberating the country's water.

The pump will supply drinking water for about 200 people in the village of Wazzani, and other projects are planned.

Israeli officials have criticised the setting up of pumps on the river, which rises in southern Lebanon and flows south to feed the River Jordan, a major source of water for Israel.

Rejoicing

A four-inch pipe will initially carry water at 10 litres per second to the village.

Lebanon water project
The project has drawn criticism from Israel
Villagers rejoiced at the opening of the pumping station. Hamida Mustafa, a 65-year-old housewife, said:

"I have been waiting for this day since I got married in 1967. I will no longer carry water on my back twice a day, back and forth from the river."

Israel accuses Lebanon of preparing to dam the river, a charge which Beirut denies.

'No threat to Israel'

But Israel's initial fury at the plans for the pumping station has been toned down, with army chief General Shaul Mofaz warning against "talk of war".

And the French news agency AFP quoted Timour Goksel, a spokesman for UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, as saying that the pipe would not seriously affect supplies to Israel.

Israel controlled the Hasbani during its occupation of southern Lebanon in 1978-2000.

Most inhabitants of Wazzani fled the occupation, during which its homes had no water supply.

Lebanon map
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