Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) reduced Thursday the amount of electricity it supplies to the West Bank city of Jericho by 50 percent, citing that debt owed by the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem District Electric Company (JDEC), covering East Jerusalem, had grown to over 1.7 billion shekels (more than $451 million).
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Palestinian officials confirmed the reduction in Jericho and said that negotiations were underway in efforts to scale down the debt burden.
According to sources at IEC, the decision to reduce the supply of electricity to Jericho specifically was reached on the grounds that the city also receives electricity from Jordan, and that the local electric station could redirect supplies in order to minimize the damage.
The same sources said the decision was reached after a number of attempts at negotiating with the PA and the JDEC in failed attempts to scale down the debt and prevent a reoccurring build up.
According to figures provided by IEC, 1.4 billion shekels of the debt is owed by JDEC in East Jerusalem and a number of villages in the area, as well as Jericho, Bethlehem and Ramallah. The remaining 300 million shekels of debt is owed by the PA.
Hisham al-Omari, director of the JDEC, told Haaretz that IEC did not inform Palestinian officials about the decision. Total volume of electricity being cut to Jericho is more than 50 percent, he said, and added that electric lines from Jordan are undergoing renovation, making them an unreliable alternative.
According to al-Omari, negotiations took place between the two sides up to the last hours before the decision. "We don't agree with Israel's conduct in the matter of calculating tariffs and interest rates," he said. "Therefore, there's a pending lawsuit against the Electric Corporation before the Jerusalem District Court."
Al-Omari added that "the move came as a surprise and constitutes collective punishment for all residents of the Jericho district." According to reports al-Omari said he received from Jericho, two-thirds of the city and the surrounding area had no electricity on Thursday, something he said causes "great damage and suffering to residents."
IEC said that the action was taken in order to prevent an increase in debt owed and that the company had informed all the relevant Palestinian officials, including the PA and local officials in Jericho and the surrounding area.
A PA spokesperson told Haaretz that the issue was being discussed by relevant parties and that the government will consider how to react to the move.
In February, 2015, IEC shut off electricity twice to Nablus and Jenin due to the PA's debts, which then stood at 1.9 billion shekels. That was just one month after Israel froze the transfer of 500 million shekels in tax money collected in the West Bank on behalf of the PA. This was in reaction to a Palestinian appeal to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
In April, Ramallah and Jerusalem reached a compromise, under which the Palestinians would accept the frozen tax funds, minus a "big cut" of half a billion shekels, mainly in order to repay debts owed to the Israel Electric Corporation. After the cut, the amount agreed upon for transfer stood at one billion shekels.