Gaza official: Halt of fuel imports exacerbating power shortages

Israel made decision to stop the entry of fuel into the Strip after multiple flaming balloons landed in its territory; electricity company spokesman urges reversal of move

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

A Palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage June 11, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)
A Palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage June 11, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Israel’s decision to stop fuel shipments bound for Gaza Strip’s sole power plant has significantly exacerbated the existing power shortage in the coastal enclave, Mohammed Thabet, a spokesman for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, said on Wednesday.

The Jewish state decided to halt all fuel shipments destined for the power plant on Tuesday after several flaming balloons launched by Palestinians in Gaza landed in the southern part of the country.

Incendiary balloons originating from Gaza sparked at least 13 fires in southern Israel on Monday, according to the local fire service. The balloons  emanating from the Strip caused another another 19 fires on Wednesday, the fire service said.

“We are now dealing with a substantial decrease in the amount of available electricity,” Thabet said in a phone call. “One of the turbines has stopped running and the current electricity schedule is five hours of available electricity followed by 11-hour power outages.”

Thabet said over the past several months the electricity schedule had stood at eight hours of available electricity succeeded by eight-hour power outages.

Thabet added that Israel must reverse its decision to prevent the entry of fuel. “This is not the correct decision. Israel is punishing all of the people in Gaza and frustrating them,” he said, noting the power plant was now relying on reserves. “It must immediately roll it back.”

The Gaza Strip's sole power plant needs fresh supplies of fuel to end recent blackouts (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib /Flash90)
The Gaza Strip’s sole power plant (Abed Rahim Khatib /Flash90)

Gaza has long received far less power than the demand of its inhabitants. Until Israel stopped the fuel shipments to the power plant on Tuesday, the territory had been receiving 190 megawatt hours of power, even though its average demand ranges between 500-550 megawatt hours.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry body that liaises with the Palestinians, suggested on Tuesday that Israel will not allow fuel for the power plant to enter Gaza until the incendiary balloons stop.

“Seventy-five to 85 trucks of fuel enter Gaza weekly, which tangibly increases the hours of available electricity,” COGAT said in a video, featuring pictures of fighters in the Islamic Jihad terror group. “Terrorism prevents that.”

Some Palestinians in Gaza rely on backup generators to provide their homes with power during blackouts, if they can afford to do so.

Gisha, a human rights group that deals with freedom of movement issues, slammed Israel for blocking the fuel shipments.

“Israel’s decision to deliberately reduce the supply of a basic humanitarian commodity, knowingly harming the civilian population in Gaza, constitutes illegal collective punishment,” the organization said in a statement.

Gisha also sent a letter to Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and COGAT head Kamil Abu Rukun on Tuesday to protest the move and demand its reversal.

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