Experts have described the reported Israeli plan as one that would have further “devastating consequences” on the environment and Gaza’s fragile water system.
The Israeli occupation forces have reportedly started pumping seawater into Gaza’s ground tunnels in what has been described as an attempt to flood Hamas’s tunnel network, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing a United States official privy to the matter.
The WSJ first broke the story of Israel’s initial plans on December 4, which involved using water from the Mediterranean to destroy the tunnels, marking another dangerous development in the ongoing Israeli onslaught of Palestinians in Gaza.
The process had already started when Israel installed two additional pumps to those it installed in November, unnamed U.S. officials said, as cited by the WSJ.
The spokesperson for Israel’s occupation forces has also declined to respond to the Journal’s request for a comment on the latest update on the flooding operation, saying it is a “classified” matter.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had already raised “grave concerns” over waterborne diseases in Gaza on Tuesday due to the consumption of unsafe water.
Experts have described the reported Israeli plan as one that would have further “devastating consequences” on the environment and Gaza’s fragile water system, which has already sustained major damage under the non-stop Israeli bombardment of the Strip.
“Historically, since the creation of Israel, Gaza used to have a key river called the Gaza Valley River, which crossed through Gaza. Israel cut the flow of this river and deprived Gaza of a major source of drinking water,” Tamer Qarmout of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
“With Gaza being a very small area with 2.3 million people, the water has been over-exploited. The quality of drinking water is really bad and salinity is a real issue,” Qarmout added, noting the Israeli move is “going to be disastrous for the Palestinians.”
There have been internal divisions between the Israeli government and the U.S. over the war tactics in Gaza, especially amid the unprecedented level of public pressure for a ceasefire that has continued to mount for more than two months.
Recordings leaked by Israeli media last week of a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, released captives and their families displayed anger towards the Israeli authorities.
In the recordings, frustrated Israelis voiced their fears over the risks the flooding of the tunnels posed on the remaining 116 captives who are believed to be kept underground.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden responded to a question from the press on the Israeli flooding plans by neither confirming nor denying the reports.
Instead, Biden, who spoke alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, only described the danger the flooding of the tunnels would pose to the remaining hostages.
Despite Israel claiming that there are hostages inside the tunnels, the American president maintained that “there are no hostages in any of these tunnels.”
“But I don’t know that for a fact,” he said, signalling confusion over his ally’s claims.
Biden also criticised Israel’s strategies in Gaza on Tuesday, saying Netanyahu must change his approach, saying Tel Aviv is starting to lose international “support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.”
“I think he has to change, and with this government, this government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden told Democratic donors in Washington, adding that the Israeli government “doesn’t want a two-state solution.”
Washington found itself under immense pressure that has increased since it vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Friday that called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
The U.S. also voted against a UN General Assembly resolution on Tuesday that called for a ceasefire, which received an overwhelming majority vote of 153 members.
Israeli raids inside Gaza intensify
The Israeli genocide in Gaza has persisted for more than two months straight with an absence of concrete global action to halt it and hold the occupying state to account.
Since October 7, Israel has killed at least 18,412 Palestinians in Gaza, 70% of whom are women and children, according to the latest figures by the health ministry in Gaza.
Euro-Med reported a much higher figure on Monday of 24,142, including 9,420 children and those who are presumed dead under the rubble. Israel has also displaced 1.8 million people, leaving them without food or shelter under the harsh winter season.
Israeli occupation forces have advanced deeper into Khan Yunis, southern Gaza, since last week.
Speaking from Khan Yunis on Monday, Israel’s top general, Herzi Halevi, said that Israel is deepening its control over northern and southern Gaza.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Hamas leader Osama Hamdan said “the enemy failed to achieve any military or political achievement” in Gaza.
“We affirm that the occupation will not enjoy security until our people enjoy it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces raided the Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza and besieged the building on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health in Gaza confirmed on its Telegram channel.
The OCHA also said Israeli forces arrested the hospital’s director, Ahmed Al-Kahlout, and took some 70 medical staff to an unknown location.
Gaza’s health ministry also called on the UN “to take urgent action to rescue children, the injured and medical personnel, and protect the hospital”.