The European Union has mobilized €456 million to support the construction of a desalination plant in Gaza Strip to provide access to clean water for around 2 million people living in the area.
The plant’s construction, however, remains in question as Israel has yet to lift the blockade that Tel Aviv imposed on Gaza after the radical Islamist group Hamas seized power from Fatah – its main political rival in the Palestinian Authority – in June 2007.
Speaking at the doorstep of a Donor’s Conference for Gaza, the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, said that construction of the desalination plant will be the largest infrastructure project undertaken in Gaza since Hamas’ takeover, and could lead to bringing some humanitarian relief to the residents of the poverty-stricken Mediterranean coastal region.
“The construction of the desalination plant is an urgently needed response to the dire situation in Gaza. The ongoing humanitarian crisis not only impacts the health and well being of Gaza’s population, but risks fuelling instability in the region,” said Hahn.
Hamas, which the EU, US, and UK has labelled a terrorist organisation, won a landslide victory in Gaza in January 2006. Fatah refused to cooperate with a Hamas-led unity government. The two bitter rivals irrevocably split in the weeks that followed, which later led to bloody street battles in both Gaza City and the West Bank.
The eight-month civil war resulted in the dissolution of the unity government and the de facto division of the Palestinian Territories into two rival entities, with the West Bank governed by the internationally recognised Palestinian National Authority, and Gaza governed by Hamas, who received backing from Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.
In May 2010, activists from Turkey’s conservative Islamic NGO the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) and the Free Gaza Movement attempted to break the blockade with the backing of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The group’s attempted to run the blockade using six cargo ships, but were intercepted by a raid carried out by IDF naval commandos. The chaotic melee that ensued on the Turkish ship MV Mavi Marmara resulted in the deaths of 10 IHH activists as well as several Israeli naval personnel also being wounded in the confrontation.
The incident caused a major rift in Israeli-Turkish relations that remains in place to this day. It also left Gaza further isolated from the international community after Tel Aviv tightened the land and sea security cordon around Gaza.
The EU, according to Hahn, expects that Israel will allow construction materials to be transported into Gaza despite the blockade.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire as 80% of the population relies on humanitarian aid to survive. The crisis on the ground is likely to worsen after the administration of US President Donald J. Trump made a recent decision to cut more than half of its planned funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.