Palestinian Gas Crisis Spreads From Gaza to West Bank Amid Cold Snap

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Palestinian women waiting to have their gas bottles refilled,, January 25, 2016.
Palestinian women waiting to have their gas bottles refilled,, January 25, 2016.Credit: AFP

The cold wave now afflicting Israel obviously hasn’t spared the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But the latter are facing an additional problem: a shortage of the liquefied petroleum gas used by hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses for cooking and heating.

Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported on the shortage of gas in Gaza. At the time, the Paz Oil company, which supplies LPG to both the West Bank and Gaza, blamed the shortage on inclement weather that had delayed the arrival of LPG shipments to Israel and promised to make up the shortfall once the ships docked.

Instead, however, the shortage has now spread to the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority’s gas and oil administration has therefore been forced to buy gas from other suppliers in an effort to solve the worsening crisis.

Mohammed Abu Bakr, the deputy head of the PA oil and gas administration, told Haaretz from Ramallah that the shortage was indeed due first and foremost to the fact that LPG tankers have been unable to dock at Ashdod Port because of the weather. According to Abu Bakr, Gaza consumes 350 to 400 tons per day, while the West Bank needs almost 950 tons per day. However, in recent weeks the oil and gas administration received only 500 tons for both the West Bank and Gaza.

Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, said that even if there is a shortage of LPG arriving in Israel, there’s no reason why the victims should primarily be residents of Gaza, who pay for their gas in advance. Gisha also noted that the infrastructure at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza can only handle 280 tons of gas per day. 

Abu Bakr rejected the claim that when the PA doesn’t get enough LPG for everyone, it funnels most of it to the West Bank while short-changing Gaza. He also said Gaza residents’ own behavior is exacerbating the problem, because thousands of them now use LPG rather than gasoline to fuel their cars, which has increased demand for LPG by dozens of percent.

“The minute cars entered the picture, this changed the situation from top to toe,” he said. “Every year, Gaza is demanding an increase [in supply] of tens of percent.”

Sources in Gaza, however, reject the claims that LPG use is exacerbating the problem. They say LPG use for vehicles is limited, and lately local police from the Hamas regime have levied fines on anyone using LPG to operate their vehicle.

Meanwhile, the combination of the cold and lack of gas has forced many farmers to destroy massive numbers of chicks.

The assistant director of the committee for gas station owners and gas suppliers in Gaza, Samir Hamada, told Haaretz the Strip needs on average 350 tons of gas daily. That demand rises to 400 tons during the winter, but the supply has only been at most 250 tons a day recently, and even less in recent weeks.

“There were days when only four or five trucks arrived, each with just 20 tons of gas. What can you do with that?” said Hamada.

Gas station owners reject the claim that the dearth of supplies to Gaza is related to payment or delays in the stations capacity to receive the daily consumption. Mahmoud Aljaban, from the administration over seeing the border crossings, explained that the administration’s headquarters in Ramallah pays for the gas in advance. The Paz gas company, in turn, is supposed to supply the gas to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as per its contract with the Palestinian Authority.  But every time there is a snare, Gazans are the ones who pay the price, he says.

Sources in Gaza say that even if there is no shortage, Paz cannot supply more than 12-13 trucks a day because the gas transfer is made through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, through a single pipeline, which transports the gas from an Israeli truck to a Palestinian truck. There is no available reservoir.

According to Hamada, it was possible to transport gas through a pipeline at the Nahal Oz crossing into reservoirs to avoid a shortage. The gas station owners have been asking for months to lay an additional pipeline to supply gas to the Strip, to no avail.

Sources in Israel stress that there are no security concerns about increasing the gas supply to Gaza. Regarding the idea to lay down an additional pipeline, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories commented that the issue is under examination, and when that work is completed the political echelon will make a final decision. It did not say when the work would be completed or who would make that decision.

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