Gaza Strip fuel sanctions reversed

State says decision has no connection to a number of 'urgent' appeals against punitive measure.

gaza fuel 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza fuel 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
The government is halting the industrial diesel fuel sanctions it imposed on the Gaza Strip on October 28, and will restore the daily supply to the level it was before the measure was imposed, the state has informed the High Court of Justice. The sanctions were imposed to pressure terrorist organizations in Gaza to halt Kassam rocket and mortar attacks against Sderot and other communities in the Gaza periphery. In a brief to the court submitted on Thursday, the state wrote: "After completing its staff work, which started before the petitioners filed their 'urgent' requests to the High Court, and without any connection to them, the minister of defense gave his approval today to increase, for the time being and temporarily, the amount of industrial diesel to the Gaza Strip to 2.2 million liters per week, similar to the amount supplied before the sanctions went into effect." Since October 28, the supply of industrial diesel fuel to Gaza had been reduced to 1.75 million liters per week. The fuel is used exclusively by the Strip's sole power plant to produce electricity. The "urgent requests" referred to in the state's brief were filed by two Palestinians and 10 Israeli and Palestinian NGOs against the cuts in the fuel supply imposed by the cabinet. The original petition, filed on October 28, protested reductions in three types of fuel that Israel exports to Gaza - diesel, industrial diesel and gasoline - as well as the government's declared intention of reducing the amount of electricity that Israel supplies directly to the Strip. The court has not ruled on the petition against the electricity cuts and has issued an interim injunction preventing the government from implementing that part of its decision. However, in a decision handed down on November 11, the court rejected the petition against the fuel cuts. At the same time, the court noted two commitments made by the state. The first was that the state "recognized that it is obliged not to block the supply of vital humanitarian needs to the Gaza Strip," and the second, that it would therefore "monitor the situation and make certain the cuts will not reach the level of damaging vital humanitarian needs." Since that decision was handed down, the petitioners have asked the High Court several times to restore the supply of industrial diesel fuel to the pre-October 28 level. On January 9, they presented the court with an affidavit from Hassan Khalaf, the general manager of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the largest hospital in the Strip, with 558 beds. Khalaf wrote, "We are experiencing a dramatic increase in the hours of electricity cuts due to the severe shortage of industrial diesel which forced the power plant to reduce its electricity production. On Saturday, January 5, the hospital experienced 10-12 hours of electricity outages in total on an on-and-off basis. The power outages cripple our ability to provide medical care." Khalaf wrote that the outages and the constant shifting between regular electricity supply and generators had caused malfunctions and breakdowns in medical equipment, computers and other electrical devices. The water pump broke down and the hospital could not clean the wards, wash linens or operate the sterilization system, he wrote. The state did not explain why it why it had decided to restore the supply of industrial diesel fuel. All it said was that it had done so in the context of its promise to monitor the effect of the fuel cuts on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It emphasized that the change had nothing to do with the petition. Officials in the Defense Ministry said Saturday night that the increased supply of fuel for the power station was based on an increase in demand for electricity in the coldest months of the year. Previous assessments of electricity usage had been based, officials said, on the relatively temperate months of early fall, and did not take into account the fact that electricity was used to provide heat during the winter. In a response to the government's decision, one of the petitioners, Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, told The Jerusalem Post that "staff work should be done on the planning boards and not as an empirical experiment on the backs of the civilian population." The organization said the state "has turned this into a modus operandi - first it brings the situation to the threshold of a humanitarian catastrophe, and then it loosens the rope a little." Gisha said that if the state had researched the matter properly, it would have known in advance that the reduction in industrial diesel would cause damage to the hospitals and the water supply in Gaza.•