Israeli 'Economic Warfare' to Include Electricity Cuts in Gaza

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 28, 2008

JERUSALEM, Jan. 27 -- Saying they were waging "economic warfare" against the Gaza Strip's Hamas leaders, Israeli officials told the Supreme Court on Sunday that the military intends to start cutting electricity to the Palestinian territory and continue restricting fuel.

The statements by Israel's state attorney, outlining Defense Ministry plans, came in response to a lawsuit filed by Israeli and Palestinian rights groups.

The organizations are asking the Supreme Court to make Israel end fuel restrictions that caused power blackouts in the Gaza Strip this month. The activists argue that the restrictions constitute collective punishment of Gaza's 1.5 million people and violate international law.

Israel's restrictions on shipments into Gaza have become a central issue in the territory's relations with Israel and neighboring Egypt. Israel halted deliveries of food, fuel and other supplies into the strip for 4½ days this month, saying it was acting in response to rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel.

Guerrillas in Gaza blew up parts of the border wall between Gaza and Egypt on Wednesday. U.N. officials said roughly half of Gaza's residents have crossed into Egypt since then, many to shop for goods now scarce under the Israeli restrictions.

The Israeli Defense Ministry has determined that a "continuation of a reduction of the supply of fuel and a reduction in the supply of electricity can assist Israel in the fight it is waging against the terror organization that controls the Gaza Strip," the state attorney's office said in the filing with the Supreme Court.

"The minister of defense has wide discretion in regard to fighting, including waging economic warfare," the state attorney's officials said.

In the filing, Israel committed to allowing the European Union to resume supplying Gaza with weekly shipments of 2.2 million liters of industrial fuel. The fuel is used by Gaza's sole power plant, which shut down last week after its supply ran out. Palestinian electricity authorities said the plant's shutdown cut power to about 500,000 people in central Gaza.

The United Nations said the fuel cuts deprived about 40 percent of Gaza's people of running water and compelled Gaza to dump untreated sewage into the Mediterranean. Hospitals relied on generators.

Israel allowed fuel for the plant to enter Gaza last week. The plant received enough fuel to resume production at about half capacity, Palestinian authorities said.

Gaza receives as much as 70 percent of its electricity from Israeli power lines, Israeli and Palestinian officials say. In the court filing, the state attorney's office said Israel intends to reduce supply by 5 percent to three lines starting Feb. 7.

Even before this month's restrictions, electricity supply in Gaza ran about 30 percent below demand, officials overseeing Gaza's power plant said last week.

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