Gaza's Fuel Is Cut Off After Palestinian Attack on Terminal

The body of Oleg Lipson is buried in Beersheba, Israel, a day after he and another worker at a fuel depot died in an attack by four men who breached the Israeli border with Gaza.
The body of Oleg Lipson is buried in Beersheba, Israel, a day after he and another worker at a fuel depot died in an attack by four men who breached the Israeli border with Gaza. (By Tara Todras-whitehill -- Associated Press)
By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 11, 2008

JERUSALEM, April 10 -- Israel said Thursday it had suspended fuel shipments to the Gaza Strip a day after Palestinian gunmen infiltrated Israel and shot dead two civilian workers at a distribution center that supplies all the fuel for Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said that he did not know how long the fuel embargo would last but that officials needed time to investigate how the four attackers managed to slip through the tight security cordon that rings the narrow coastal strip. The attack took place at Nahal Oz, a fuel distribution center about a mile east of Gaza City, the territory's major population center.

"We have to reexamine how to protect this place," Mekel said. "So there may be some hardship for some days, but we don't know how many."

Gaza is already suffering from a severe economic blockade that has reduced the flow of goods into the territory to only humanitarian essentials. Human rights advocates said Thursday that even a relatively short stoppage of the fuel shipments could have drastic consequences in a place where reserves are nonexistent and basic supplies of industrial fuel, diesel and gasoline are running low.

"Israel has closed Gaza's borders and doesn't allow fuel to enter, except through Nahal Oz," said Sari Bashi, executive director of the Israel-based human rights group Gisha. "So to close Nahal Oz is to choke the life out of Gaza."

Bashi said that Gaza's lone power plant has enough fuel to last it until Sunday but that it may have to cut its production either partly or entirely thereafter. The plant supplies less than a third of Gaza's electricity; power lines from Israel supply the rest. At the moment, she said, Gaza has rolling blackouts of about five hours a day.

Every week, 581,350 gallons of industrial fuel for the power plant, 211,400 gallons of diesel fuel and 20,000 gallons of gasoline pass through Nahal Oz, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Mahmoud al-Khozndar, spokesman for an association of Gazan gas store owners, said that almost no gas is available to power cars and that a fuel blockade could lead to a total collapse of the strip's already fragile transportation network.

"More and more, it's a disastrous situation here in Gaza," he said.


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