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Fuel to restart power plant arrives in Gaza

March 23, 2012 1:26 A.M. (Updated: March 25, 2012 1:37 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israel has opened a key crossing point to allow a large shipment of industrial fuel into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian and Israeli officials said Friday.

The move was intended to alleviate an energy crisis brought about by a dispute between Hamas and Egypt, an Israeli official said.

Nathmi Mhanna, a Palestinian Authority border official in Gaza, told Ma'an that Israel agreed to let the fuel tankers cross Kerem Shalom following intervention by officials in Ramallah and Cairo.

The fuel will restart Gaza's sole power plant, said Ahmad Abu al-Amarin, a spokesman for the energy authority. "We were informed that 450,000 liters of fuel will be sent to the electricity station," he said.

But al-Amarin warned the shipment will only power the plant for one day. Another Palestinian official said contacts were under way to arrange an additional delivery on Friday.

The morning's delivery was the first to Gaza's power station via Israel in almost a year after Hamas seemed to back down on its insistence that such deliveries be sent via the southern crossing with Egypt.

Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli military division responsible for coordinating access to and from Gaza, confirmed the shipment of fuel purchased by the Palestinian Authority from Dor Alon, an Israeli company.

He said Israeli Maj.-Gen. Eiton Dangot approved the opening of Kerem Shalom as a special case because the terminal is typically closed on Fridays. The PA made the request on Thursday and Dangot agreed to open the terminal on Friday in light of the crisis, Inbar told Ma'an.

The request was the first since January 2011, Israeli army records show.

Friday's delivery followed "intensive and successful contacts" between the PA, Egypt and Israel, said Raed Fattouh, the PA official in charge of coordination with Israel over the passage of supplies into Gaza.

The fuel crisis has crippled Gaza in recent weeks. Petrol pumps have run dry and its 1.7 million residents suffer major electricity blackouts.

A rocky relationship between Egypt and Hamas has bolstered the crisis, but Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Friday that negotiations with Egypt had helped to resolve the crisis.

"We were informed by the Egyptians that fuel would be transferred to Gaza on Friday, and that is what's happening at the moment," he said, adding that talks about long-term arrangements are ongoing.

The crisis stems from a dispute over Cairo's insistence that fuel imports to Gaza pass through Kerem Shalom, which is controlled by Israel, as Egyptian security forces crack down on smuggling from the Sinai.

Hamas objects. It is opposed to giving Israel the opportunity to block supplies in times of tension and wants direct trade with Egypt, a move that could strengthen Gaza's economy and Hamas' popularity.

Egyptian officials say Hamas' preferred terminal, Rafah, is equipped for pedestrians, and fuel deliveries could pose a safety risk. International agreements also specify Kerem Shalom as the entry point, they say.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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