Mar 4, 1:06 PM EST

Israel to double water supplies to Gaza Strip amid tensions

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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel will double the amount of water provided to the Gaza Strip, despite a bloody war last summer against the territory's Hamas rulers, defense officials said Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the commander of Cogat, the defense agency that deals with Gazan civilian affairs, said in published remarks that Israel would increase water supplies from 5 to 10 million cubic meters (1.3 to 2.6 billion gallons) per year to relieve what he called a "severe water problem due to excessive overuse of groundwater resources."

Gaza suffers from chronic water shortages, making tap water undrinkable and forcing the territory to send large quantities of raw sewage into the Mediterranean.

Mordechai said he hopes Hamas "would not steal water from civilians as they steal construction materials intended for the reconstruction of houses."

Rebhi el-Shiekh, director of the Palestinian Water Authority in Gaza, said he had not received official notification of the Israeli announcement.

The water, if delivered, represents just a fraction of Gaza's water needs. But the water would provide some relief since it is of drinking quality and does not have to be treated.

Gaza gets some 200 million cubic meters (53 billion gallons) from a local aquifer. The water is very salty and can be drunk only if it is filtered.

If Israel delivers the water, el-Shiekh said Gaza does not have the capacity to receive it all because a major water tank was destroyed in last summer's fighting. He said Gaza could handle roughly half the water until the tank is rebuilt later this year.

Israel captured Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war and occupied the territory until withdrawing in 2005. Two years later, Hamas militants seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Israel maintains a blockade of the territory, and controls its airspace and coastline. It says the blockade is needed to contain Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into Israel and fought Israel in three wars since taking control of Gaza.

The blockade pressures both Hamas and Gaza's 1.8 million residents.

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Akram reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.

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