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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) will meet with the country's largest utility providers on Wednesday in an emergency session to discuss the continued supply of water, fuel and electricity to the residents of the Gaza Strip.
"The meeting will allow the minister to learn clearly what the facts are on the ground," said Ronen Moshe, spokesman of the National Infrastructure Ministry. "The goal is for the utility companies to provide him with details of how much they currently provide to the residents of the Gaza Strip."
Hagit Ganish, assistant ministry spokeswoman, added that no decisions will be made at the meeting regarding the possible cessation of utility services, as that decision ultimately rests in the hands of the government. "After the minister studies the situation and understands it clearly, he will be able to help recommend a particular approach to the government. However, the decision rests completely in the hands of the government," she said.
Earlier this week, Dor Alon Energy Israel Ltd., the country's second-largest fuel company and the sole provider of fuel to the Gaza Strip, briefly cut off the supply of fuel to the Strip's gas stations in response to a request from the Palestinian Authority to halt deliveries. It was suspected that the PA made the request out of financial considerations. However, one day after asking for the halt in fuel deliveries, the PA asked Dor Alon to resume the fuel supply.
According to Moshe, should the government move to suspend utlitity services to the Gaza Strip, it will not be finances that influence the decision. "It will be strictly a matter of policy," he said, "the government does not want to be providing services to an area that it is ruled by Hamas."
Tal Katz of Sheetrit Media Group did note however that the possibility of the government suspending utilities services to the Gaza Strip is hurting Dor Alon in the stock market. "People are afraid of the amount of losses that the company would incur as a result of the drop-off in fuel deliveries," she said, while adding that she did not know how much the company actually delivered to its Gaza Strip customers.
According to numbers from the Israel Electric Company, Israel currently supplies approximately 50 percent of the some 200 kilowatts that are needed to power the homes and businesses in the Gaza Strip. Stopping this energy flow could severely impact the residents of the Gaza Strip, however, an unidentified source in the National Infrastructure Ministry said that should the government decide to cut the power, it would do so only for "responsible" reasons. "Israel has always been very mindful of humanitarian needs and it will not allow a humanitarian disaster," added the source.
Uri Schor, spokesman of the Water Authority, told The Jerusalem Post that Israel provides approximately 4 million cubic meters of water per year to the Gaza Strip. "At NIS 2.29 per cubic meter, this will add up to a lot of money should the government decide to halt the flow of water into Gaza," he said. Schor noted that Gaza Strip residents require between 90 - 100 million cubic meters of water per year for drinking and agriculture, and that "despite the fact that we provide a relatively small percentage of their water needs, every cubic meter is important in a region that is in constant short supply."
Representatives from the the water company Mekorot, the Israel Electric Company, the Paz gas company, Dor Alon, the Defense Ministry, the office the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories and the Foreign Ministry also planned to attend the meeting.