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Israel to ease fuel blockade on Gaza amidst state of emergency

Dec. 14, 2013 8:50 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 16, 2013 11:27 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israel will allow the import of 450,000 liters of industrial diesel to Gaza on Sunday morning in order to allow the Strip's sole power plant to begin working again as part of a larger plan to temporarily ease the blockade, an official told Ma'an on Saturday evening.

President of the committee for the import of goods Raed Fattouh confirmed the planned entry of approximately 450,000 liters of industrial diesel on Sunday intended for use at the power station, which has been shut down for lack of fuel since November.

Fattouh told Ma'an that the import comes amidst a major deal that would facilitate the extension of working hours at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza for the next week.

Fattouh said that the step is "the first of its kind" and will extend working hours at the Kerem Shalom crossing for up to 12 hours a day for the next week, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The decision was made to allow the import of of aid and fuel for the residents of the Gaza Strip after the devastation caused by inclement weather to property and agricultural land over the last few days.

The decision comes hours after an UNRWA spokesperson called large swathes of Gaza a "disaster area," and called for the end of the crippling blockade on the coastal enclave.

"A community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this," UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said earlier on Saturday.

The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.

Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.

The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.

The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.

Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.

Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.
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