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Israel cuts off power to Hebron over PA unpaid bills

April 5, 2016 2:02 P.M. (Updated: April 6, 2016 11:47 A.M.)
HEBRON (Ma’an) -- Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) notified the Hebron municipality that it would cut power supplies to part of the occupied southern West Bank city on Tuesday over debt owed by the Palestinian Authority amounting to more than 1.7 billion shekels ($447.8 million).

Deputy mayor of Hebron Judie Abu Sneina said that IEC notified the municipality on Monday evening that they would cut power in parts of the city from 9 to 10 a.m. and from 2 to 3 p.m.

Abu Sneina referred to the IEC cuts as “political decisions to exert pressure on the Palestinian Authority,” affirming that the Hebron Electric Power Company had been fully paying the IEC for the past three years.

Over the past several days, IEC has cut off electricity to parts of the West Bank, in a move which has been denounced as constituting collective punishment.

On Monday, IEC shut down the power lines supplying electricity to the city of Bethlehem for four hours without warning the municipality, deputy mayor Issam Juha told Ma’an.

On Thursday, IEC also cut off electricity to the Jericho district. According to Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) head Hisham al-Omari, power cuts will take place across the occupied West Bank in the coming two weeks.

Power lines were expected to be shut down for two hours to towns west of Bethlehem on Wednesday, and north of Ramallah on Thursday.

JDECO filed a lawsuit against IEC in June demanding the corporation pay some 500 million shekels worth of compensation for the financial losses and damages that JDECO had suffered, which resulted of the expensive fines that the company paid to Israel for days of delay.

In May 2015, an initiative went into force to connect electricity grids in the occupied West Bank to Jordan as part of a greater move to interconnect power usage in the Arab world.

Expansion projects to the grid in the occupied West Bank comes as Palestinian dependence on Israeli electricity has been an ongoing point of contention between the two parties for years.

The contention arises partially due to massive debt owed by the Palestinian Authority to the IEC, which provides around 88 percent of total electricity consumption in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Israeli authorities have withheld tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in the past over unpaid bills owed to Israeli companies.

In February 2015, IEC cut off power to the cities of Nablus and Jenin over allegedly unpaid bills.

"The outstanding payments owed to the Israeli Electric Company took a heavy toll on a struggling Palestinian fiscal situation," said Steen Lau Jorgensen, World Bank Director for West Bank and Gaza in an April 2015 report.

"The non-payment by Palestinian distribution companies and municipalities for purchased electricity has put further constraints on the Palestinian Authority's budget and has hindered economic stability," Jorgensen added.

The World Bank recommended in the report that the Palestinian Authority put more effort into reducing non-payment of electricity bills, while the Israeli Electricity Company should cooperate with its Palestinian counterparts in developing payment plans.
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