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Gaza power plant closes again

Feb. 28, 2012 1:28 P.M. (Updated: March 4, 2012 12:40 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Gaza's only power plant has been forced to shut down for the second time in two weeks due to a fuel shortage, the energy authority in the Gaza Strip said Tuesday.

Energy officials appealed to Egypt to provide Gaza with a sufficient amount of fuel to allow regular operation of the plant, adding that the disruptions were inflicting a heavy toll on the 1.7 million Palestinian residents of the blockaded strip.

The power station had only re-started operations eight days ago, reactivating one of four generators when emergency fuel supplies arrived from Egypt. A crisis in fuel supplies shut the plant on Feb. 14, plunging Gaza into up to 18 hour blackouts per day.

Earlier on Tuesday, Egyptian security forces stopped four trucks containing more than 7,000 liters of diesel fuel bound for the Gaza Strip via underground tunnels, and arrested four Egyptian smugglers.

Egypt wants to stop the use of underground tunnels for delivery of Egyptian fuel purchased by Palestinian authorities, and has severely reduced supply through the tunnel network, prompting an energy crisis in the coastal enclave.

Egyptian and Gazan officials said last week they had reached a deal which includes longer-term measures to increase the capacity of Gaza's sole power plant and link Gaza's electricity grid to Egyptian infrastructure.

On Sunday, as part of the first stage of the agreement, Egypt increased its power supply to the Gaza Strip from 17 to 22 megawatts, but the energy authority warned the measure was not sufficient to allay the crisis.

The shorter-term requirement is the delivery of fuel into Gaza, but a disagreement on the route of the fuel still appeared to be pending agreement.

The Gaza government is pressing for the Rafah terminal between the countries to be equipped for fuel transfer, and is reluctant to accept fuel to be delivered via the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing.

The government fears 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.

Meanwhile, international aid group Oxfam said in a release Sunday that the crisis was having a disproportionate effect on women, who bear the load of domestic work, and leaving children in Gaza "stressed and scared," quoting local partner organization the Women's Affairs Center.

A human rights expert who criticized the government-run energy authority for its handling of the crisis said on Sunday that he had received an arrest warrant from Hamas authorities. The order accused him of creating a rift amongst citizens, as well as threatening the security of the authority.
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