* Fuel shortages accelerate Gaza pollution
* Piles of garbage mount on streets
* Sewage stains beaches after treatment facility halts work
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, June 29 When Palestinians in the Gaza
Strip seek some relief from the grind of life in an enclave
plagued by conflict and hardship, they usually need to look no
further than their sandy beaches.
But this summer, access to the cooling waters of the
Mediterranean is gradually being closed off to Gaza's 1.8
million residents, due to pollution stemming from fuel shortages
that have halted work at sewage treatment facilities.
Baha al-Agha of the Gaza Environment Quality Authority said
about 100,000 cubic metres of untreated waste water are being
pumped into the Gaza shore daily.
"Swimming is prohibited" signs have gone up at several
beaches. But at one of Gaza's most popular beaches, dozens of
people, including children, splashed in the water over the
weekend despite the posted warning.
"Things are getting worse day by day in the absence of real
and quick solutions," Agha told Reuters. He called on the
Palestinian unity government formed earlier this month to act
immediately "before Gaza beaches are declared a disaster area".
Egypt's closure of most of the estimated 1,200 cross-border
smuggling tunnels run by Islamist group Hamas has virtually
stopped cheap Egyptian fuel coming into Gaza.
Egypt's military-backed government fear the tunnels are used
to take weapons into the Sinai Peninsula, and accuses Hamas of
backing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas denies it helps
militants in Egypt.
Israel has its own blockade on Gaza, allowing in fuel and
restricted imports since Hamas took control in 2007. But the
Israeli fuel costs twice as much as Egyptian imports.
GARBAGE PILING UP
Gaza residents said they had little to celebrate at the
start on Sunday of the Muslim month of Ramadan - traditionally a
time for worship but also for family feasts in the evening at
the end of a daily daytime fast.
Garbage has been piling up on the streets, with some 75
percent of sanitation trucks idled by the Gaza municipality's
inability to pay high fuel prices.
"Tunnels are closed, crossings are closed, there is no sea
port ... and now they are telling us the beaches are closed?
Wouldn't it be easier if they just let us die in peace?" asked
Ali Abu Hassan, a 46-year-old taxi driver.
Driving along Gaza's coastal road, the smell of sewage is
sharp and waves hitting the beach are yellowish and brown.
Many in the Gaza Strip are also feeling the pinch of a
salary dispute that could test the resilience of the new unity
government formed under Hamas's reconciliation pact with
Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.
Some 40,000 public servants hired by Hamas since it seized
the Gaza Strip seven years ago from forces loyal to Abbas have
not been paid in full for months due to a cash crunch caused by
Egypt's tunnel crackdown.
Hopes of receiving wages quickly under the unity government
were dashed when the new administration said it must first vet
the employees before paying them - a process that could take
Hamas-hired workers, who held a one-day strike on Thursday,
are particularly resentful that Abbas's Palestinian Authority
has been paying its Gaza-based staff regularly, even though they
have not reported to work since 2007.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)