Israeli forces have occupied vital water infrastructure in the north of Gaza, according to satellite imagery from Planet. The images reveal Israeli tanks surrounding a seawater desalination plant in the north of Gaza City, as well as a sewage treatment facility to the south. The occupation of these water facilities occurred shortly after Israeli ground troops entered Gaza on October 27. Satellite imagery suggests that Israeli forces reached the desalination plant by October 30 and the wastewater treatment plant by November 1.
A separate satellite image indicates that a sewage treatment plant near Gaza’s border with Israel has drained its treatment basins shortly after the October 7 attack by Hamas. However, there is no evidence in the imagery to suggest that Israeli forces are operating near this facility.
The Israeli Defense Forces declined to comment on the situation, stating that they do not discuss operational activities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned on ABC News that Israel could take responsibility for security in Gaza indefinitely.
Occupying water and power facilities does not necessarily violate the laws of war, as protecting infrastructure is crucial during times of conflict. Gaza has faced long-standing water and sewage issues due to its limited surface water and brackish wells. It relies on water from Israel and three desalination plants along the Mediterranean Coast. International organizations such as the World Bank and the European Investment Bank have provided funding for these plants and new sewage treatment facilities.
Water and sewage treatment systems in Gaza have been largely inoperable for weeks, exacerbated by fuel and electricity shortages. Israeli bombing campaigns have also damaged pipes and sewers in Gaza City. Furthermore, Israel temporarily halted the supply of water from its territory to Gaza following the Hamas attack, although it has since resumed supplying water to some parts of southern Gaza.
The lack of desalination has significantly increased the risk of bacterial infections throughout Gaza, according to the World Health Organization. Diarrhea cases have increased, with children under 5 being particularly affected. The damaged water and sanitation systems have also led to an uptick in other diseases such as skin rash, chickenpox, scabies, and lice.