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Palestinian water projects held up by US sanctions

YATA, West Bank -- One slip, and Issa Abu Shakr's 5-year-old nephew plunged into the fetid stream of sewage that flows outside the family's West Bank home.

The contact with the filthy water required blood transfusions and a 10-day hospital stay, Abu Shakr says.

A few miles away, Maisoun Seidat picked up a blue bucket for one of her three daily trips to a communal cistern. People should not have to fret about something as elemental as water, Seidat says, but in the parched West Bank, it's a constant worry.

These are the human faces of the toll exacted by US sanctions following the rise to power of the militant Islamic Hamas group.

US projects were to have dried up the toxic flow that threatens the Abu Shakrs and bring more water to the Seidats. But the money has disappeared into the morass of Mideast politics.

Projects meant to make sweeping changes in the Palestinians' quality of life -- such as the sewage treatment plant that was to have been built near Issa Abu Shakr's home in Yata village near Hebron -- have been put on hold.

Meanwhile, the Abu Shakr family complains of asthma, burning throats, and colds. The trunks of olive trees near their home are blackened by the squalid flow.

Palestinians had hoped that a power-sharing deal between Hamas and the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, would revive the aid, and a $250 million package of water and waste-water programs the United States had planned for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated in a recent visit to the region that this wouldn't happen unless Hamas moderates its refusal to recognize Israel's existence.

Other major donors have continued smaller-scale infrastructure projects. But it is the United States the Palestinians depend on for water and sewage treatment, says Naim El-Mani at the Palestinian Water Authority.

The suspension of the wastewater project "is like a time bomb," Mani said.