A delegation of U.S. water experts will arrive in Lebanon Monday to mediate an escalating dispute over a project to pump additional water from a river that also supplies water to Israel.
Lebanon and Israel share water from the Hasbani and Wazzani rivers. The waters flow from southern Lebanon into the Jordan River and Israel's Sea of Galilee, which is Israel's largest freshwater reservoir.
Several months ago the Lebanese government began a project to pump additional water from the Hasbani River and use Wazzani spring water to irrigate its parched land and villages in the south.
Now Israeli officials are warning of possible consequences unless the project is stopped. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Israel takes a "grave view" of the project and last week met with senior Israeli military officers to discuss the issue.
Israeli Radio reported Israel has sent a warning to Lebanon to stop the project, which is expected to be completed in two months.
Monday a team of American experts, including one in international water law, will tour the Hasbani River and its tributary, the Wazzani, to assess the legality of Lebanon's project.
Lebanon annually pumps about seven million cubic meters of water from the Hasbani. The project would increase that amount by two million cubic meters.
Israel says the Lebanese project is in violation of a long-standing international agreement. Lebanon says pumping the additional water falls within the amount it is allowed to tap under international law.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said Saturday that "Lebanon's decision is irreversible," adding, "the Israeli threats will not keep international agreements and documents from being implemented."
Israel controlled the Hasbani and Wazzani waters during its 22 year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.
Water is a sensitive issue in the parched Middle East and Arab world. Almost all the five Arab-Israeli wars fought since Israel's establishment in 1948 have touched on water-related issues.
An American official in Israel was quoted as saying the United States is "urging both governments to pursue a peaceful solution to the problem."