September 15, 2002
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Despite Israeli military threats, Lebanon will start pumping water from a shared border river for its southern villages, President Emile Lahoud said Saturday.
"Lebanon's decision to benefit from the Wazzani River's waters to irrigate its parched land and villages in the south is final and irreversible," Lahoud said of the project to divert water from the Hasbani and Wazzani rivers, which flow from Lebanon into Israel's Sea of Galilee. The sea is Israel's main water reserve.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week met with senior army officers to discuss the Lebanese water project. Israel Radio reported that Israel had sent a warning to Lebanon to stop the project.
"The Israeli threats will not keep international agreements and documents ... from being implemented," Lahoud said, according to a statement released by his office.
Paul Patin, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Israel, said Washington is "urging both governments to pursue a peaceful solution to the problem."
Israeli officials have made pointed reminders that Israel went to war in 1964 to stop Syria from diverting the headwaters of the Jordan River.
"It was precisely in this area ... that the fighting over the water began," said Uri Saguy, a retired general who is now chairman of the national Israeli water company, Mekorot.