Mazuz freezes plan to cut Gaza power

Says mechanism needed first to avert humanitarian crisis; UN, EU slam proposed cuts

powerout gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
powerout gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Monday rejected for the time being the Defense Ministry's intention of causing power shortages in the Gaza Strip as a punitive measure for rocket attacks against Israeli communities, the Justice Ministry announced. The decision was made at the end of a late evening meeting attended by Mazuz, State Attorney Eran Shendar, other top Justice Ministry officials, representatives of the Military Advocate-General's department, legal advisers from the Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister Office and the National Security Council and others. Mazuz gave the green light for various economic sanctions including cutting economic and commercial ties with the Gaza Strip. However, as far as the army and defense ministry's intention of cutting power supplies to Gaza was concerned, Mazuz said more planning work had to be done before the decision could be carried out. This, "in order to look into the possibility of implementing the measure so that it would be in keeping with the government's decision [of Sept. 19.] That decision restricted sanctions so that they would not cause humanitarian harm to the civilian population." According to an example provided by Channel 10 news, Mazuz instructed the army to determine how to warn Gaza hospitals of its intention to cut electricity in enough time so that the hospitals could turn on their own generators. According to reports published last week, the security establishment had decided to initiate a number of sanctions against the Gaza Strip in accordance with the government's decision of September 19 which declared the area a "hostile territory." One of the decisions was to cut electricity to Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip for two hours each evening. Gaza is dependent on Israel, in one form or another, for 91 percent of its energy. The Israel Electric Corporation directly supplies 62.5% of it, while another 28.6% comes in the form of fuel paid for by the European Community but provided by the Dor Alon oil company. The fuel is delivered to the local Gaza electricity company. In the meantime, all of the Israeli banks have either severed or intend to severe their business ties with banks in Gaza. Another report said Israel is preventing Gaza farmers from exporting their fruit and vegetables to Europe. All of the sanctions discussed at Monday evening's meeting had been approved by the Military Advocate-General's office, including the electricity cuts. However, according to the September 19 declaration that Gaza was a hostile territory, all punitive measures taken in accordance with the declaration required the approval of the attorney-general. Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said Monday's meeting was held in accordance with that provision and was not called to prepare for a petition to the High Court of Justice filed Sunday and due to be heard in the next few days. Monday night was the first time Mazuz had seen the suggested measures, Cohen said. Earlier in the day both the United Nations and the European Union criticized Israel for looking to cut fuel to Gaza. From New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the measure was "punitive and unacceptable" even though he condemned the rocket attacks. In a press statement he called on "Israel to reconsider its actions and for all concerned to protect civilians and to meet their obligations under international law." Similarly, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the move was a form of "collective punishment." Speaking at the end of her one day visit to Israel she said that such actions only served to fuel extremism and threatened the success of next month's international meeting between Israelis and Palestinians in Annapolis. Ferrero-Waldner strongly condemned the rocket attacks, but at the same time she urged Israel to show restraint at this critical juncture. "We are very concerned about the implication of cutting fuel deliveries. We think a deteriorating situation in the Strip would only aggravate the consequences for the local population," Ferrero-Waldner said. "We are clearly not in favor of collective punishment," she added. Such actions, she said, "would play into the hands of the more radical people who are trying to derail the ongoing negotiations between the parties." During a heated meeting with Ferrero-Waldner in Jerusalem Monday morning President Shimon Peres chided her for focusing so heavily on the suffering of the Palestinians without also talking with him about the harm caused to the children of Sderot. Israel, he told her, had no intention of relinquishing its right to defend its citizens. Europe has to understand that sanctions against Hamas in Gaza are a direct result of their attacks against Israel, Peres told her. When the discussion turned to the Annapolis conference, Ferrero-Waldner urged Israel to take steps to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. According to a spokeswoman for Peres, Ferrero-Waldner said she feared that failure at Annapolis could lead to further bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians. Peres in turn told her that there is consensus support in Israel for a Palestinian state but that it could not support the return of Palestinian refugees into Israel a move that would undermine the state's Jewish identity because it would mean the loss of a Jewish majority. In speaking with reporters later in the day, Ferrero-Waldner said that she brought up the Annapolis conference as well her objections to the Gaza sanctions at each meeting she had with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Vice Premier Haim Ramon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "I told them that it is essential to ensure that the Annapolis meeting is a success," said Ferrero-Waldner. As such, she said, it is important to improve the lives of daily citizens, particularly in Gaza. "I have asked for concrete improvements on free movement of people and goods," said Ferrero-Waldner. "I made the point, that road blocs [for Palestinians in the West Bank] should be abolished or at least reduced," said Ferrero-Waldner. In his talks with her, Barak promised that he would remove 24 mounds of earth that were blocking roads in the West Bank. He also said that he had allowed for the increase of 500 Palestinian policemen in the West Bank to help Abbas.