Palestine Pulse

Israeli holidays delay deal to reopen Gaza border crossings

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Article Summary
Although Israel quickly reversed its decision to stop trucks from entering the Gaza Strip, the delay is shrinking already-strained supplies of essential fuel.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip should begin receiving fuel imports and consumer goods again May 12 under terms of a cease-fire agreement reached May 6 between Israel and the Palestinian factions under the auspices of Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the decision May 7, just two days after Israel closed the Gaza Strip's border crossings and prevented fuel imports because of a deadly, three-day military escalation between Palestinian factions and Israel that began May 3.

The reopening will wait until May 12 due to Israeli holidays.

When Israel began preventing fuel deliveries May 5, it affected vital sectors of the Gaza Strip, mainly electricity. Citizens, who had only been receiving eight hours of electric power a day to begin with, found their supply cut to six.

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The Gaza Strip has only one power plant, which has three production units. Only two of the units are operating now because of the fuel shortage, even with the fuel Gaza is buying from Egypt in a pinch. A plant official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the two operating units combined produce 50 megawatts of electricity. To operate three units would take 450,000 liters of fuel per day, which would produce 85-90 megawatts. 

The power plant also is fed by a 20-megawatt power line from Egypt and a 75-megawatt line from Israel. All told, the plant is now providing only 145 megawatts daily for the Gaza Strip, which actually needs 500 megawatts.

The official said that if the current deficit in electricity continues, hospitals and sewage facilities will face real problems.

Ramzi Ahl, director general of water and sanitation in the Gaza municipality, told Al-Monitor that sewage treatment plants have already had to pump large quantities of wastewater into the sea without treatment. That amount will double, he warned, if fuel supplies aren't fully restored soon.

​The Gaza Strip has been plagued by a severe electricity shortage since 2006, when Israel bombed the plant. Yet there's been no increase in the amount of electricity supplied from the Egyptian and Israeli lines, and the situation has continued to worsen as demand has risen with an increasing population density.

Israel had agreed in late September to supply 450,000 liters of fuel per day to operate the power plant after it reached an agreement with Nikolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. Qatar financed the purchase. Until then, Gazans had been allotted only four hours of electricity daily; the agreement increased that allotment to eight hours.

Mahmoud al-Shawa, chairman of Gaza's Petroleum and Gas Station Owners Association, told Al-Monitor that on May 7, Israel allowed in 300,000 liters of fuel for private gas stations in the Gaza Strip, but the stations need 1.2 million liters every day. Some stations have had to close. The cooking gas shortage also is worsening, he said.

Raed Fattouh, head of the Presidential Committee for the Coordination of Goods at the Crossing and Borders Authority, told Al-Monitor the closure affects all types of fuel.

The Gaza Strip relies mainly on fuel imports. The 1994 Paris Economic Protocol restricts the Palestinian Authority's (PA) purchase of fuel from other countries unless it meets Israeli standards. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, reached an agreement with Egypt in June 2017 to buy fuel to supplement that supplied by Israel.

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Ahmad Abu Amer is a Palestinian writer and journalist who has worked for a number of local and international media outlets. He is co-author of a book on the Gaza blockade for the Turkish Anadolu Agency. He holds a master’s degree from the Islamic University of Gaza.

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