Lebanon began pumping water from the Hasbani River on Wednesday despite the opposition of neighboring Israel, which sent warplanes flying overhead.
Israeli soldiers also watched from along the border as Lebanese officials opened a pumping station on the river to supply water to the village of Wazzani, which was unable to tap the Hasbani during Israel’s 22-year occupation that ended in May.
Peasant women from Wazzani howled ecstatically and children jumped into the river. “This is the first step toward liberating our water, a symbol of sovereignty and simple rights,” local leader Qablan Qablan said.
The project has caused uproar among Israelis, who are concerned about how much water Lebanon takes from the river. The Hasbani starts in southern Lebanon and flows to Israel.
Lebanon takes 353 million cubic feet of water a year from the Hasbani, 7% of what Israel uses.
Israel tried to pressure Lebanon to stop the project but backed off. Israel has accused Lebanon of preparing to dam the river, but Beirut denies any such plan.