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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
War of words over Mid-East water
US water expert Charles Lawson protected by troops as he visits the pump in southern Lebanon
Both sides are taking the issue very seriously
Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has said his group will retaliate "within minutes" if Israel attacks a controversial water pumping station in southern Lebanon.


Hezbollah is in full readiness and mobilisation to carry out its legitimate, moral and religious duty

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah's threat comes a day before the planned inauguration of the pumping station - which Israel has said it "cannot tolerate".

The project is aimed at pumping water from the Wazzani River for Lebanese villages.

Israel opposes it because the Wazzani is a tributary of the Hasbani River, which flows into the Jordan River and eventually into the Sea of Galilee - Israel's main fresh water reserve.

"Any aggression against Wazzani [pumping station] will be answered in a swift, firm and decisive way," Sheikh Nasrallah told a student gathering in Beirut on Tuesday.

"We won't wait for hours or days," he said. "As I talk to you now Hezbollah is in full readiness and mobilisation to carry out its legitimate, moral and religious duty."

The United States has sent a water expert to try to find a negotiated solution to the dispute.

The expert, Richard Lawson, visited the pumping station on Sunday and was in Israel on Monday.

Liquid gold

Media reports in Israel and Lebanon have suggested that a compromise could allow Lebanon to tap water for houses in the border villages, but not for irrigation.

"The goal is to get both sides to agree on a peaceful resolution of the problem," a spokesman for the US embassy in Israel said.

Workers test a pump
The Lebanese are to start pumping water on Wednesday
Last month Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Lebanon's Wazzani plan could lead to war between the two countries.

Correspondents say that in the parched Middle East, water is extremely precious and every drop counts.

The Israeli army has been closely monitoring the work from their side of the border.

In 2001, Lebanon went ahead with a pumping project from Hasbani river to irrigate the drought-stricken border village of Ghajar, despite strong Israeli objections.

Beirut insists the new pumping station will add about 4 million cubic metres from the Wazzani, which it says falls within its fair share of water according to international law.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Reynolds
"Much of the land in this region is desert making water a valuable resource"
See also:

18 Sep 02 | Middle East
17 Sep 02 | Middle East
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17 Sep 02 | Media reports
10 Sep 02 | Middle East
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