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On 4th day of power cuts, Israel reduces electricity to Gaza by 60 percent

June 22, 2017 3:14 P.M. (Updated: June 29, 2017 5:55 P.M.)
(File)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities have continued devastating power cuts for the fourth consecutive day in the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday, after Israel approved a dramatic reduction in Israel’s electricity supply to the territory upon request of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while Egypt-provided fuel has put Gaza's sole power plant back in operation following its closure some two months ago.

Head of the public relations office at Gaza’s electricity company Muhammad Thabet said on Thursday that Israeli authorities had reduced electricity supply from 12 megawatts to just 8 for power lines feeding Beit Lahiya and Jabaliya in northern Gaza.

After several other electricity cuts to the 10 Israeli power lines servicing districts in the Gaza Strip during previous days, Thabet noted that Gaza was now being provided 48 megawatts of electricity, a 60 percent reduction to the typical 120 megawatts provided by Israel to the besieged territory.

However, earlier reports had stated that Israel had approved a 40 percent reduction in electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip.

Israeli authorities announced plans to make the cuts last month, upon request of the PA in the occupied West Bank, which foots Gaza’s monthly electricity bill from Israel by subtracting from taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the PA.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has provided industrial-use diesel fuel to run the Gaza’s sole power plant, which shut down in April, when Gaza’s electricity officials said they could not afford a PA-imposed tax on diesel that doubled the price of operating the plant. The power plant has not run at full capacity in years, with Israel's crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.

This left the Israeli power lines as the only reliable power source feeding the impoverished territory, since the power lines from Egypt that supply electricity to southern Gaza are often out of operation due to technical issues.

According to Israeli media, the Egypt-provided fuel has made up for the PA-Israel power cuts.

Gaza’s Finance Minister Salim al-Kayyali told Ma'an earlier this week that 11 fuel trucks carrying approximately 500,000 liters of diesel were delivered from Egypt to the power plant, adding that a million additional liters would be shipped later in the week -- expected to keep the power plant in operation for three-and-a-half days.

According to Israeli news outlet Ynet, the PA had attempted to prevent the Egyptian fuel shipment from reaching Gaza's power plant, reportedly threatening punitive measures, including that the PA would rescind its monthly payment to the power plant if it imported the Egyptian fuel.

Hamas reportedly obtained a court order that forced the power plant to accept the fuel shipment, according to Ynet.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that the Hamas movement has initiated a series of talks in collaboration with discharged Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan, President Mahmoud Abbas' political rival and a fierce former opponent of Hamas' rule in Gaza following its success in the 2006 elections that threw Fatah and Hamas in a protracted internal conflict.

According to Ynet, Dahlan, who while residing in exile in Abu Dhabi continues to hold political clout in the region, had persuaded the Egyptian government to send the fuel to the besieged territory.

While the PA has said its decision to cut funds for electricity was because Hamas was failing to reimburse the Ramallah-based government, critics have said the Fatah-led PA was actually trying to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of the besieged coastal enclave.

Gaza, which marked its 10th year under an Israeli-enforced blockade last week, has struggled for years with power shortages due to limited fuel access and degraded infrastructure.

Egypt has also upheld the blockade following President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2013.

Many Gazans are prevented from leaving or entering the besieged coastal enclave, sometimes for months at a time, as Egyptian authorities only periodically open the Rafah crossing, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.

Earlier this week, Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) raised the alarm over what it described as the worst medication crisis facing the besieged coastal enclave in years, with the main victims of the crisis being cystic fibrosis patients, cancer patients, and infants with developmental deficits.

Head of the radiology department for Gaza's public hospitals Ibrahim Abbas had also said that diagnostic radiology equipment that has been provided over the last ten years -- at an estimated worth of $10 million -- would soon fall into disrepair due to their sensitivity to blackouts.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be a wake-up call for everyone able to solve the problem,” PHRI Executive Director Ran Goldstein said.

“Gaza’s children have become hostages in the political game played by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel. The change must be dramatic and immediate -- providing funds, medicines, and electric power, opening Gaza to the outside world and offering urgent humanitarian assistance,” Goldstein added.

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinians refugees, highlighted in a statement Wednesday that before the current crisis, Gaza was already receiving less than half the 450-500 megawatts needed in the coastal enclave.

Gunness noted that Gaza’s Health Ministry has warned that 40 operating rooms and 11 gynecology operating rooms that conduct about 250 surgeries daily in Gaza are now at risk -- compounded by another financial crisis in the medical center as a result of the PA slashing funds for hospital equipment and medication.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement on Wednesday that the situation in Gaza has "heightened intra-Palestinian tensions," and has resulted in a "increasingly dangerous situation."

"Gaza is a tinderbox," Mladenov said. "If and when it explodes, it will have devastating consequences for the population and derail all efforts at advancing peace."

"This crisis is leading us toward another conflict. A conflict that no one wants," he said.
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