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Gaza power authority says it has receive no reply from PA over electricity crisis

May 28, 2017 7:50 P.M. (Updated: May 29, 2017 11:26 A.M.)
Deputy chairman of the Gaza power authority Fathi Sheikh Khalil
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Gaza Strip's power authority said on Sunday that it had met all of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) stipulations to end the electricity crisis in the besieged coastal enclave, but that the governing body in the occupied West Bank had yet to respond.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) -- the agency responsible for implementing the Israeli government’s policies in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip -- said on Thursday that Israel was planning on reducing its electricity supply to Gaza at the request of the Fatah-led PA.

The PA, which foots Gaza’s 40 million shekel ($11.19) monthly bill from Israel, allegedly requested that the Israeli government reduce the supply to between 25 and 30 million shekels ($7 to $8.4 million) per month.

The deputy chairman of the Gaza power authority, Fathi Sheikh Khalil, said in a press conference in Gaza City on Sunday that written replies had been sent to the PA through different avenues, including countries donating to the PA and rights organizations monitoring the humanitarian situation in Gaza -- but that no responses had been received thus far.

Khalil said that the Ramallah-based electricity authority had requested that Gaza’s electricity company more rigorously collect bills in the impoverished coastal territory, as well as appoint a nonpartisan committee to monitor its performance and work in conjunction with the PA power authority to operate the electricity sector in Gaza.

The Gaza official said that the power authority had accepted all the aforementioned conditions, in exchange for the PA exempting the fuel used to run Gaza’s only power plant from taxes.

Khalil added that the electricity authority had held a number of meetings with relevant actors, including United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, to convince the PA to change its mind, but that all of its efforts had so far been fruitless.

"If the PA doesn't respond immediately to all these appeals, legal procedures will be needed to end the suffering of Gaza citizens,” Khalil said, notably calling on human rights organizations to sue authority figures responsible for the disastrous situation in Gaza in local and international courts.

Khalil ultimately held Israel responsible for the severe electricity crisis in Gaza, saying that occupation authorities were legally required under international law to provide basic services to occupied territories.

While Israel officially withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and maintains that it is not responsible for the humanitarian situation in the small Palestinian territory, its stringent decade-long blockade and three devastating military offensives since 2008 have disproportionately contributed to the crisis in Gaza.

The head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Avi Dichter, said Thursday during an official tour of Israeli communities near the border with Gaza that Israel was “not responsible for Gaza’s problems,” adding that residents of Gaza “have justly earned the problems they contend with.”

The Hamas movement released a statement on Friday warning the Israeli government of unspecified “consequences” should the cuts in electricity supplies be implemented.

Meanwhile, Mladenov warned on Friday that "we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open" should Israel effectively reduce Gaza’s power supply at the behest of the PA.

Noting that the majority of Gaza residents have been left with some four hours of electricity a day since April, Mladenov emphasized that “if implemented, this decision will further reduce electricity supply to Gaza by some 30 percent, plunging its population into a spiral of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The price will be paid by poor Palestinians, by women and children, by people already traumatized by conflict, who have been held hostage for a decade now. They are the ones who will not have access to electricity, to water, to health services and sanitation,” Mladenov said.

Critics have said the PA’s move represents an attempt to exert pressure on the Hamas government to release control of the small Palestinian territory, forcing the government to rely almost fully on international assistance and private funds to obtain electricity for Gaza's residents.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released reports this month, warning of a full on crisis should the situation in Gaza continue on its current trajectory.

Even at full capacity, Egyptian and Israeli electricity grids, together with Gaza's now-shut down sole power plant, fail to cover the Gaza Strip’s energy need.

The power plant, which provides Gaza with 30 percent of its fuel, had not run at full capacity in years, with Israel's crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.

It ultimately shut down in April after running out of fuel provided by Qatar and Turkey, with Gaza’s electricity officials claiming that they have been unable to purchase electricity from the Palestinian Authority (PA) owing to the taxes levied on fuel entering the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the power lines from Egypt that supply electricity to the southern Gaza Strip are often out of operation due to technical issues, leaving Israeli power lines, which typically provide Gaza with about 60 percent of its electricity, as the only reliable power source feeding the impoverished territory.

The enclave's severe electricity shortages over the years have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.

War has also taken its toll, and during Israel's 50-day offensive on Gaza in 2014, the power plant was targeted, completely knocking it out of commission.

The UN warned in 2015 that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel's blockade.
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