Qatar to send team to Israel, Gaza in bid to address Strip’s electricity crisis

Delegation to meet with Israelis, Palestinians about construction of ‘Power Line 161,’ apparently as part of unofficial ceasefire deal

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

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

Qatar on Monday announced it was sending a technical team to Israel and the Gaza Strip, in order to discuss the construction of a new power line that would alleviate the coastal enclave’s longstanding electricity crisis.

It appeared to be the latest measure of an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, which was brokered by Egypt and the United Nations with Qatari assistance. The truce — which Jerusalem refuses to officially acknowledge, but largely abides by — reportedly included Israeli approval for a number of humanitarian projects in Gaza.

Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, Mohammed al-Emadi, said the delegation would arrive in the region after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends June 5.

The team will look specifically into a long-discussed project, known as Power Line 161, which would bring 161 kilovolts of electricity from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, speaks during a press conference in Gaza City on May 14, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Residents of the Hamas-ruled enclave have suffered from a “chronic electricity deficit” for the past 10 years, according to the United Nations. In recent months, Gazans have had access to electricity between 12 and 16 hours of the day, which low as it is, represents a marked improvement from 2018, which saw months in which Gazans had power only five hours a day.

Palestinian officials have long blamed Israel and Egypt and their blockade on Gaza for this situation. Israel maintains that the true impediment to a sufficient and consistent energy supply to Gaza is the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s refusal to pay for it.

The construction and operation of Power Line 161 was proposed as a possible solution to the electricity shortage several years ago, but, as recently as last month, efforts to create it were stalled.

“Unfortunately, meaningful progress on the 161 kV line from Israel to Gaza has not been achieved; it is now necessary to agree an implementation roadmap to move this project forward,” according to a report from April 30 by the Office of the Quartet, an international body consisting of the UN, United States, European Union, and Russia.

Recent weeks have seen tensions in the Gaza Strip soar, following a massive two-day flareup earlier this month between Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave, which ended with the unofficial ceasefire agreement.

Rockets fired toward Israel, in a picture taken from Gaza City on May 5, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the agreement includes a Hamas obligation to halt violent incidents along the border fence, maintaining a buffer zone 300 meters from the border; an end to the launching of incendiary balloons at Israeli communities and nighttime clashes between Gazans and security forces; and a stop to flotillas trying to break through the maritime border between Gaza and Israel.

In return, Israel expanded the fishing zone and agreed to enable United Nations cash-for-work programs, allow medicine and other civil aid to enter the Strip, and open negotiations on matters relating to electricity, crossings, healthcare, and funds.

Since March 30, 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have participated in regular protests along the border, demanding Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.

The protests have included many acts of violence against Israeli security forces, and have seen at least 200 Palestinians killed.

Israeli officials maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip. They also say the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character.

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