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Israel mulls flooding Gaza tunnels with seawater amid war with Hamas. Why is this catastrophic for Palestinians?

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel has resumed bombing Gaza, intensifying ground offensive in southern Gaza after the failure of further truce talks wityh Hamas fighters. While Israel has killed almost 800 Palestinians civilians in a bid to ‘eliminate’ Hamas, reports have now suggested that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) plans to flood the tunnel network of Gaza, allegedly used by Hamas. 

A Wall Street Journal report mentions that Israel plans to flood the tunnel system in Gaza with seawater. Israel has assembled a large system of pumps that may be used to flood tunnels used by militant group Hamas under the Gaza strip in a bid to drive out fighters, the report mentioned. 

Notably, this action if crystallized will spell doom for civilians in Gaza, who have overcrowded United Nation shelters as Israel has left no place safe in the besieged conclave. 

Southern Gaza was declared a safe zone at the start of the war in October. However, Israel brutally dismissed the consideration and has increased the intensity of their genocide on Palestinians in Gaza. 

UN agencies have said that lack of fresh water, food, and fuel have triggered an alarming surge in contagious, and infectious diseases in the overcrowded shelters, including Hepatitis A. 

Around the middle of November, Israel’s army completed the set-up of at least five pumps about a mile north of the Al-Shati refugee camp that could move thousands of cubic meters of water per hour, flooding the tunnels within weeks, the WSJ report said.

The Wall Street Journal said an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) official declined to comment on the flooding plan but was quoted as saying: “The IDF is operating to dismantle Hamas’s terror capabilities in various ways, using different military and technological tools.”

How does this affect Gaza?

Israel unleashing seawater in the war-torn Gaza strip would have catastrophic effect on the civilians in Gaza reeling from severe fresh water shortage.

The report, outlining the damage such an operation could cause for Palestine’s Gaza said, Gaza’s aquifer, from which the population draws for drinking water and other uses, is already becoming saltier with a rise in the sea level, requiring more energy to fuel the desalination plants on which the population depends. 

The aquifer provided 83 liters of water per person a day. Now Palestinians receive no more than three liters a day, according to the United Nations.

Flooding could affect Gaza’s already polluted soil, and hazardous substances stored in the tunnels could seep into the ground, further affecting the groundwater table. 

The WSJ report quoted a former US official saying that the plan of flooding tunnels, if done, would bring further international condemnation and put the Biden administration in a tough position, they also said “it was one of the few effective options for permanently disabling a Hamas tunnel system estimated to stretch for about 300 miles.”

Is flooding tunnels an effective method?

Egypt in 2015 used seawater to flood tunnels operated by smugglers under the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, prompting complaints from nearby farmers about damaged crops, the WSJ report states.

Analysts have suggested that using water over a long period would effectively force Hamas fighters out of the tunnel, however, salty seawater could compound the humanitarian crisis.


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Updated: 05 Dec 2023, 06:14 PM IST


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