Israel cut the electricity supply to the Gaza Strip by one percent late Thursday, Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror said.
The cut is part of Israel's campaign to exert pressure on Gazans to stop militant rocket attacks on southern Israel. Dror said the cut was so small that it would hardly be felt in Gaza.
The small reduction set in motion a plan authorized by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai. Defense Minister Ehud Barak had previously approved a plan to reduce electricity, gasoline and diesel fuel supplies in late October last year, thereby accepting the defense establishment's recommendation to impose economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip.
On Thursday, Palestinian militants fired at least ten Qassam rockets and eight mortar shells into Israel.
Israel currently supplies 126 megawatts of electricity to the Strip via ten electrical lines. According to the authorized reduction plan, the supply in one of the ten lines will be reduced by 5 percent during the coming days, and a similar amount will be reduced from one additional line every following week.
The Defense Ministry was planning to hold an assessment meeting as the plan progresses to examine options regarding how Israel should proceed.
Aside from the electricity supplied by Israel, Gaza independently produces 65 megawatts of electricity, and receives 17 megawatts from Egypt.
Human rights groups have complained that measures like cutting back on fuel and power are collective punishment, harming innocent civilians. While imposing the limits, Israel insists it will not cause a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
"We want the Gazans to take care of themselves, and we are operating to minimize the assistance granted to them by Israel," Vilnai said Thursday during a ceremony marking the opening of new bomb shelters in the rocket-ridden southern city of Sderot.
"We must wean Gaza off its dependency on Israel in various areas. The High Court of Justice ruled that we are operating in a proper manner - we are gradually reducing in percentage increments the supply of electricity, and meanwhile, the Gazans are building alternative electricity production infrastructure," the deputy minister added.
When asked whether he supports the idea of an independent port in Gaza, Vilnai said "if they want it? Yes."
The new public bomb shelters were not funded by the government, but rather by a non-profit organization named "Keren Yedidut - International Fellowship of Christians and Jews" (IFCJ). Vilnai arrived at the ceremony accompanied by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who heads the organization.
Vilnai was asked why the government hadn't funded the new shelters, and the deputy minister responded that "the government is investing substantial amounts of money in the protection of the residents of Sderot, and Keren Yedidut is part of the collective effort against our enemies."
Netanyahu: Israel must employ policy of deterrence rather than attrition
Head of the opposition and Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday visited the southern towns of Sderot and Dimona and said that the "government's policy in the south is a direct continuation of the failed policy, as is mentioned in the Winograd report, used in Lebanon."
Netanyahu was referring to the methods employed by the government and the military during the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
The opposition leader added that "Israel must employ a policy of deterrence rather than a policy of attrition, and the government must make a decision to allow the IDF to paralyze a terrorist organization that fires Qassam rockets on southern towns."
Netanyahu met with yeshiva students in the rocket-weary Sderot and said explained that during the administration under his premiership, the number of terrorist attacks against Israel was dramatically reduced due to his policy of deterrence that his government took upon itself.
Barak vows harsher IDF response if Qassam fire continues
Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed Thursday harsher military action, should Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip continue to fire Qassam rockets at southern Israel.
"If the Qassam fire continues, we will step up and step up our [military] activity, and the other side's losses, until the problem is resolved," said Barak during a visit to the Israel Defense Forces' Ze'elim training base.
"The military action is bearing fruit," said the defense minister. "This will not end today or tomorrow, but the combination of military action on one hand, and sanctions on the Strip on the other, as well as fortification [of buildings] in some of the [Israeli] communities, will in the end bring the Qassam fire to a halt."
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