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Emergency fuel arrives from Egypt via Gaza tunnels

Feb. 20, 2012 6:40 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 22, 2012 11:19 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- A limited delivery of fuel arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday, brought in through underground tunnels from Egypt, as the energy authority director said he expects a long term solution to the widespread blackouts to be agreed with Egypt this week.

The fuel has allowed the power authority to reactivate one of the four generators at Gaza's sole power plant, the authority said in a statement.

The arrival of 300,000 liters of fuel is expected to provide Gaza's 1.7 million residents with an additional two hours of electricity per day. Since the plant shut down last Tuesday, as deliveries were severely reduced from Egypt, Gaza has had only six hours of power each day.

Egypt had earlier pledged a much larger shipment. An Egyptian MP said Saturday that Egypt would begin pumping 500,000 liters of fuel into Gaza per day for the power plant and 100,000 for gas stations starting Sunday.

But Egypt wants to stop the use of underground tunnels for delivery of Egyptian fuel purchased by Palestinian authorities, a Ma'an correspondent said.

Palestinian Energy Authority Director Omar Kattana said Monday that crisis will be resolved this week, after a delegation of energy officials returned from talks in Egypt.

Egypt has agreed to increase electricity to Gaza that comes directly through power lines on the Rafah border, and a joint Egyptian-Palestinian committee has been formed to examine how fuel can be delivered through "official channels", he said.

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Egypt on Monday as the first stop in his third regional tour in recent weeks. He will raise Gaza's fuel shortage and blackouts with Egyptian officials, Haniyeh advisor Yousef Rizqa said.

Despite the emergency shipment via Gaza's network of underground tunnels on Monday, Egypt is searching for alternative routes, and the Gaza government is pressing for the Rafah terminal between the countries to be equipped for fuel transfer.

Rafah currently is only fitted for passengers, and its development is restricted by an agreement between Egypt, Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

The Gaza government is reluctant to accept fuel to be delivered via an Israeli-crossing, fearing Israel will use control of supplies to squeeze the coastal strip. Israel severely restricts the movement of people and goods from the Gaza Strip since it tightened a blockade on the territory in 2007.

Katana said Monday that other power routes will be studied by the joint committee, including expanding the capacity of direct power lines into the Gaza Strip, and rehabilitation of the power plant, which suffered damage in Israeli bombings in 2006 and 2008.

Meanwhile, hospitals are running out of fuel to power wards and medical equipment, and running water has been cut off in many households in the Gaza Strip, a Ma'an correspondent said.
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