Israel’s state-owned electric company on Monday continued to scale back its electricity supply to Palestinian cities due to almost two billion shekels in unpaid debt, limiting its supply to the city of Bethlehem and vowing to do so in other places across the West Bank over the next two weeks.
The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) said Monday it was halving its supply to Bethlehem, after taking a similar, short-lived step in the city of Jericho last week.
It was not stated when the power supply to Bethlehem will be restored.
The company says the Palestinian authorities have racked up a debt of 1.74 billion shekels ($460 million). Israel has thus far continued to provide electricity out of concern for the Palestinian population, but the IEC said it could no longer absorb the debt and was taking measures to stop it from growing further.
Palestinian officials claim that Israelis gave them no prior warning of a power cut to Bethlehem, saying they were only told about pending power cuts to Ramallah and el-Bireh, according to the Ma’an news agency.
Bethlehem Mayor Issam Juha told Ma’an that the municipality was not warned that the cuts would take place.
Israeli government officials also said they were not informed by the IEC of the planned cuts, according to Army Radio. The IEC also cuts power to Israeli homes over unpaid debts.
The cuts in Jericho, which began last Thursday, led to blackouts, but full supply was restored later the same day, according to Mansour Nassar of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO). The cut affected up to 30,000 people in a total population of around 50,000 in the city and surrounding area, according to Jericho Governor Majed al-Fityani.
The Palestinian Authority is struggling financially and depends largely on foreign aid. It relies heavily on Israel for electricity supplies, which also provides electricity to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Ongoing talks with the IEC and PA have so far not resolved the debt problem. In January 2015, the IEC cut power to Palestinian cities for a number of hours every day over a similar debt, only to renew it a few weeks later.
A year earlier, the company and the Palestinian Authority struck a deal to resolve an outstanding debt after the IEC had cut electricity to the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin over unpaid bills of NIS 1.9 billion ($482 million).
Under an economic agreement signed with the PA in 1994, Israel collects around 600-700 million shekels each month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.
It transfers the money after deducting approximately 100 million shekels for expenses such as Palestinian hospitalizations in Israel, sewage treatment and covering part of the electricity debt, which has remained largely stable in recent months.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.