Gaza's sand gets pulled out too

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am

Israeli forces may be leaving Gaza, but not before they remove part of the coastal strip. As troops prepare for a pullout as early as tomorrow night, Israeli trucks have been hard at work carrying away large quantities of Gaza sand from dunes adjacent to where the Nisanit settlement existed until recently.

Palestinian environment minister Youssef Abu Safieh described the operation as 'theft', but Israel rejected the charge.

'It looks as if it is stolen, but it is being used for security purposes in the region,' says Yossi Zemach, a spokesman for military administrators.

'This is not illegal. We have the permission of the Environment Ministry.'

Army officials declined to say how much sand was being taken.

Palestinian officials say that for many years, Gaza's sandy soil has been trucked away to be mixed with cement and aggregates for construction inside Israel.

Sand is seen as an increasingly valuable commodity, given the Palestinian Authority's intention to undertake large building projects as it takes charge of the land occupied by settlements and military installations.

Since the sand acts as a sponge for rainfall, its removal decreases the amount of rain that would reach Gaza, Palestinian environment minister Mr Youssef said.

Army officials insist the sand would not end up in the hands of Israeli building contractors.