Israel planning to ease Gaza power crisis by building new solar field — report
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Israel planning to ease Gaza power crisis by building new solar field — report

Unilateral measure, said to be pitched to US envoys, would be funded by private donors -- but farm would have to be at least 15 times bigger than country's current largest

An aerial view of the 40 megawatt solar field recently built at Kibbutz Ketura, which provides the one third of the daytime electricity for the city of Eilat. (Courtesy)
An aerial view of the 40 megawatt solar field recently built at Kibbutz Ketura, which provides the one third of the daytime electricity for the city of Eilat. (Courtesy)

Israel has approved a plan to build a solar field in Israel to pump power into the Gaza Strip and ease the electricity crisis in the Palestinian enclave, an Israeli newspaper reported Tuesday.

According to the report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, which quoted unnamed diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, the panels would be set up near the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel as a unilateral measure, without the involvement of the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip.

Its construction would reportedly be funded by private donors in Israel and abroad.

The step could change the situation in the power-starved territory, the report said, adding that it was discussed this week with the visiting US envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who toured the Middle East ahead of the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Gaza currently gets about 120 megawatts from Israel, after the Strip’s sole power plant shut down earlier this year and Egypt recently stopped providing electricity, claiming that power lines were damaged by the Islamic State terror group.

Illustrative: Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

That reportedly allows the Strip’s residents some four hours a day of power.

Just doubling that to eight hours could require a solar field some 300 acres in size — 15 times bigger than Israel’s current largest field, at Kibbutz Ketura, which is a mere 20 acres large.

According to the report, the original plan was to put the field in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, but Cairo rejected the initiative.

Another reported plan to ease Gaza economic woes was to allow 6,000 residents to work in Israeli communities near the Strip.

But that plan was said to have been shot down by Shin Bet security agency, which regards workers exiting Gaza as a concrete security threat. It said such a measure could provide Hamas with intelligence and be used to smuggle money into the Strip for terror purposes.

A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip’s sole electricity plant, which provides a fifth of the embattled region’s power needs, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel as per local officials, on February 15, 2018. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

Officials in Israel and elsewhere have been scrambling to find ways to ease the humanitarian situation in the Strip and possibly fund new infrastructure projects, seen as a key to reducing violence in the beleaguered enclave.

On Monday, Hadashot TV reported that Israel has agreed to set up a floating dock in Cyprus to receive goods bound for Gaza as a way to ease the rehabilitation of the ailing Palestinian enclave, conditioning the plan on the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held by the Hamas terror group.

Israel reportedly intends to put together a working plan in the coming months and then pitch it directly to the public in Gaza, also bypassing Hamas. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman proposed the idea to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Cyprus over the weekend, the report said.

The plan is to set up a project team within two weeks, with the goal of putting together a working scheme within three months.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party in the Knesset, June 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

The dock would include a system enabling Israeli monitoring to prevent Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, from using the opportunity to smuggle weapons and materials for terror attacks into Gaza. Hamas has long made access to a sea port a key strategic goal.

Two apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively, are currently being held Hamas, along with the remains of two IDF soldiers: Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Hamas seized control in 2007 of Gaza from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by the rival Fatah party. Several attempts at reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah have failed.

Gaza is buckling under severe problems with its infrastructure that have left limited access to drinking water and severe shortages of electric power, as well as an economic slump. Israel and Egypt are imposing a sea blockade on the territory to prevent arms smuggling by Gaza terror group. Goods arrive at Israeli ports, where they are screened for weapons or military-capable material, and then transferred to Gaza on hundreds of trucks a day.

Israel says Hamas has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars in international financial aid and materials toward building its military forces and infrastructure.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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