Israel says it will reduce the electricity supply to Gaza after officials in the Palestinian government in the West Bank said payments would be scaled back.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai of the Israeli defense body COGAT, said Thursday the move is due to “internal problems” between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He did not say when electricity would be reduced.
Abbas has threatened to exert financial pressure on Hamas, his main political rival, and Palestinian officials said earlier this month payments would stop. The Islamic militant group seized Gaza in 2007, driving out Abbas’ forces.
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 — Yoav Mordechai said in an interview on Thursday with BBC Arabic that Israel plans on reducing its electricity supply to Gaza, which has been embroiled in a power and fuel crisis for months.
A COGAT spokesperson told Ma’an News that the reductions were being made upon request of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the occupied West Bank, though it remained unclear when Israel would begin lowering the electricity supply.
The PA, which foots Gaza’s 40 million shekel ($11,187,021) monthly bill from Israel, allegedly requested that the Israeli government reduce the supply to 25-30 million shekels per month.
Last month, reports emerged saying that the PA notified authorities that it would stop paying for the electricity that Israel provides Gaza altogether. Israeli media outlet Haaretz reported that the PA informed Mordechai that the Ramallah-based government would “immediately stop” paying for Israeli electricity provided to the Gaza Strip.
PA spokesperson Yousif al-Mahmoud had said earlier in the month that the PA was committed to covering the costs of Gaza’s electricity originating from Israel and Egypt. The PA has been paying 40 million shekels a month for Israeli electricity — subtracted from taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the PA — and seven million shekels ($1,913,053) for Egyptian, he said.
The coordinator’s bureau stated that Israel provides the besieged territory with 125 megawatts of power, amounting to 30 percent of the overall electricity needs of the Gaza Strip, according to Haaretz.
Despite the 125 megawatts of electricity from Israeli grids, the small coastal enclave needs 500 daily megawatts to service nearly 2 million residents, who have suffered under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected as the defacto leader of Gaza.
Last month, Gaza’s sole power plant shut down after donor funds from Turkey and Qatar dried up, leaving Gaza with a total available power supply of less than one third of the daily consumption in the enclave.
The plant shutdown has reduced power supply to residents to just six hours of electricity followed by 12-hour blackouts, compared to the typical schedule of eight consecutive hours of electricity followed by eight without. Meanwhile, electricity lines from Egypt, which power the southern Gaza Strip, have continued to falter, as all electricity lines from Egypt to the Gaza Strip broke down last month.
Critics have said the PA’s move represents an attempt by the PA 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.
Al-Mahmoud, meanwhile, said last month that over the last three months Gaza’s power authority was supplied with Qatari-funded fuel, while Hamas collected 100 million shekels ($27,329,329) worth of electricity fees from residents of Gaza “while not paying anything to receive the electricity.”
Mordechai reiterated the PA’s claims in Thursday’s BBC interview, saying “Hamas takes 100 million Shekels from the helpless and taken advantage of Palestinians of Gaza every month through taxes and doesn’t transfer the money to Palestinian Authority, but uses them to dig tunnels and for the advantage of Hamas.”
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 has not run at full capacity in years, with Israel’s crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.
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 has warned 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.