UN: Pullout did not damage enviornment

Report rejects PA claims of Israeli harm to Gaza environment.

UN building 88 (photo credit: )
UN building 88
(photo credit: )
Israel's withdrawal last summer from the Gaza Strip and its demolition of thousands of buildings in the evacuated settlements did not cause significant damage to Gaza's environment, a UN report released Thursday said. In the future, the Palestinians will be able to use the evacuated land, about one-third of Gaza, for housing and agriculture, said the report published by the United Nations Environment Program. After the disengagement in August, 1.2 million tons of rubble were left behind from the destroyed homes and community buildings, the report said. Removal and disposal of the rubble, some of which was laced with asbestos, must be done carefully to ensure that workers are not exposed to unnecessary harm, the report said. Weeks before the evacuation, international Mideast envoy James Wolfensohn brokered a deal between Israel and the Palestinians regarding rubble disposal. Under the agreement, Israel was to demolish the homes in the empty settlements and move asbestos and other hazardous materials to sites inside Israel. The Palestinians were to dispose of the remaining rubble, keeping reusable materials for themselves to build a seaport and other houses, and transferring the remainder to a third party. Israel was to foot the estimated $30 million (€25 million) bill. The rubble removal has not been completed, although the evacuation and destruction of the homes were completed in September. The UN report said that although some asbestos-related pollution remained, overall "the scientific assessment report gives the Gaza pullout an environmental clean bill of health." There are "no environmental constraints to Palestinian settlement in the area," the report said. "Any further Israeli pullouts from the West Bank now have an important ecological benchmark by which they can be judged," Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director, said in a statement. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who won the elections Tuesday, plans to carry out further West Bank withdrawals and draw Israel's final borders by 2010. The UN researchers, at the request of the Palestinian Authority and with Israel's cooperation, looked at water quality, soil and land contamination, hazardous waste, asbestos and coastal issues in the areas Israel evacuated. The researchers, who visited the evacuated areas in December, used satellite images, earlier reports and data provided by Israel and the Palestinians to identify areas that could be problematic, the report said. A number of unlined garbage dumps and small oil spills were found. At the Erez industrial zone, an area on the Israel-Gaza border where Israeli and Palestinian companies operated before the withdrawal, researchers found spilled oil at a damaged power plant. Clean up and disposal methods were suggested, the report said.