Israeli cabinet decides to heed PA request to cut Gaza electricity
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Israeli cabinet decides to heed PA request to cut Gaza electricity

Ministers accept IDF, COGAT recommendation to honor Abbas demand to press Hamas over power supply

Palestinian boys study on lanterns light during a power outage in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 18, 2016. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian boys study on lanterns light during a power outage in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 18, 2016. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel has reportedly decided to heed a Palestinian Authority request to cut electricity supply to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after the PA announced it would not continue to pay the bill as it stepped up pressure on its main rival.

An Israeli official told the daily Haaretz newspaper on Sunday that the security cabinet earlier in the day had accepted the recommendation of the Israeli military to cut the supply at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas whose confrontation with Hamas has escalated in recent months.

The PA has been paying 40 million shekels ($11.3 million) a month for 125 megawatts, but recently said it was now only prepared to pay for 20-25 million shekels ($7 million) a month for electricity to Gaza.

The hours of electricity supply in Gaza will now likely be reduced from six hours per day to between two and four hours a day.

Israel has been concerned that further cutting electricity would further destabilize Gaza.

The Israeli official said that during the security cabinet meeting, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the head of military intelligence Hertzi Halevy and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Major General Yoav Mordechai described worsening conditions in the Gaza Strip but still welcomed the pressue on Hamas even while warning that a further cut may lead to escalation. Mordechai, said the official, recommended Israel adopt a policy that was not contrary to Abbas’s.

Following the Palestinian decision last month, Mordechai had said he would cut the Gaza supply. But Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s stepped in to say that Israel would make the decision based on its own priorities and does not take orders from the PA.

Steinitz took another jab at Mordechai during the meeting Sunday, reiterating that he did not take orders from Abbas, to which Mordechai reportedly retorted sarcastically that he “salutes Abbas.”

“The discussion really emphasized the trap we are in when it comes to Gaza,” the official told Haaretz. “On the one hand, we want to work with Hamas and not alleviate pressure on Hamas, on the other hand [at the end of the day] everything falls on us.”

The PA and Hamas have been engaged in a power struggle for some time. Abbas, whose government pays Israel for the electricity, has stepped up financial pressure on Hamas in recent weeks by withholding funds to loosen the Islamists’ grip on power.

A power plant in Gaza City is pictured from behind a fence on April 16, 2017. The Gaza Strip's only functioning power plant was out of action after running out of fuel, the head of the territory's electricity provider told AFP. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
A power plant in Gaza City is pictured from behind a fence on April 16, 2017. The Gaza Strip’s only functioning power plant was out of action after running out of fuel, the head of the territory’s electricity provider told AFP. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Gaza residents have adapted to worsening hardships with ingenuity and stoicism.

In some apartment buildings, residents have pooled resources to buy communal generators. Most Gazans buy food daily because they can no longer use refrigerators. Formerly routine activities such as showering or running a washing machine are done at odd hours, when power is on.

Gaza hasn’t had full-time electricity in more than a decade, largely because of the international isolation of Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel. Israel and Egypt, which border the coastal strip, imposed a blockade on the territory after Hamas’s takeover in 2007, to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry. Since 2008, Israel and Hamas have fought three cross-border wars.

Since April, Gaza’s power crisis worsened, in part because of Abbas’s new aggressive strategy. After years of failed reconciliation efforts, he began cutting back Gaza support payments to pressure Hamas. The group says it will not yield.

Gaza’s sole power plant stopped working in April, after it ran out of fuel that had partially been paid for by Qatar and Turkey, one-time regional backers whose support appears to have cooled off.

Hamas said it could not afford to buy new fuel, leaving Gaza with 10 power lines from Israel as the main source of electricity — about 30 percent of the territory’s needs.

Dov Lieber and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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