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High court bans Israeli company from punitive power cuts to West Bank

April 20, 2016 2:07 P.M. (Updated: April 20, 2016 9:18 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- An Israeli court on Wednesday temporarily banned the Israeli Electric Corporation (IEC) from cutting power to the occupied West Bank as a punitive measure for outstanding Palestinian debts.

Hisham al-Omari, the head of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) -- the Palestinian power distributor -- said in a statement that the Israeli High Court of Justice made the ruling after an appeal was lodged two weeks ago following a spate of punitive power cuts.

In early April, IEC stopped supplying power to the West Bank districts of Hebron, Jericho, and Bethlehem, among others, to punish the Palestinian Authority for unpaid debts amounting to more than 1.7 billion shekels (about $450 million).

IEC said on April 6 it would temporarily halt the power cuts after an agreement was reached with the PA to begin negotiating the payment of the electricity bills, starting with a payment of 60 million shekels ($15.7 million) that was set to take place last week.

It was not clear on Wednesday what stage the negotiations were at, although the Israeli court order offered the Palestinians more time to reach a settlement.

Al-Omari has said that while the cuts are intended to pressure the PA to pay the debt, they amount to "collective punishment." "It affects all the people, whether they have paid their bills or not," he said. "The power cuts won't bring any solution to what is a political issue."

The Israeli authorities have in the past withheld tax revenues collected on the PA's behalf over unpaid bills owed to Israeli utilities companies, and last year, Israel last year threatened to deduct over 1 billion shekels from the revenues to cover electricity debts.

Earlier this week, the World Bank noted in its report to the Ad Hoc Liaison committee, which decides on foreign aid to Palestine, that under current economic arrangements with Israel, the PA is missing out on at least $285 million a year.

It also said that Israel has been withholding some $669 million from the PA, mostly in the form of pension contributions by Palestinian laborers working in Israel.
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