Ten days after the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, electricity supplies in the Gaza Strip remained limited, as they were during the week and a half of the military hostilities themselves. As of Sunday evening, continuous power was only available for three to four hours a day, although by Monday, it was available for stretches of six hours, followed by 12 hours without electricity. That’s compared to the eight-hour stretches that power was available before the fighting erupted.
As of the beginning of the week, the Strip was receiving a combined 116 megawatts of electric power a day from Israel and the local Palestinian power station, in contrast to about 190 megawatts before the war – which was still far outstripped by the 500 megawatts in local demand. The drastic reduction in power supplies to Gaza is due primarily to an Israeli government decision to halt the delivery of fuel destined for the Palestinian power station in Gaza, in an effort to pressure Hamas. In addition five high-voltage power lines in Israel providing power to Gaza were damaged during the recent fighting. Repairs on them were completed on Sunday afternoon.
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A source at the Gaza power station told the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights that, as in the past, Qatar is paying for fuel for the power station, which normally arrives from Israel through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, but Israel has closed the checkpoint. As a result of the power shortages and the short supply of various types of fuel, Gaza’s sewage treatment plants are also not operating, and at least 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage a day have been flowing into the Mediterranean.
For the same reason, water purification plants are also not functioning and desalination plants are only working on a limited basis. Hundreds of thousands of residents now have no regular access to drinking water.
The local power station is producing 45 megawatts instead of its usual 70, and there is concern that in the coming days, output could drop even further or even stop entirely. Privately owned neighborhood generators, which usually compensate for periods during which there is no electricity, are only functioning for a few hours a day, if at all, due to the shortage of diesel fuel that they run on. The situation could worsen further if Israel doesn’t reverse its current policy.
In addition, power shortages are affecting Gaza’s hospitals, which also depend on generators. It’s putting patients at risk, including people injured in the recent hostilities and seriously ill coronavirus patients. Although the use of solar power has increased in Gaza, it is mainly used for home consumption.
The extent of the damage to Gaza’s power grid from the war is estimated at $22 million. Last week, the Palestinian company in charge of electricity distribution repaired the stretches of power lines coming from Israel on the Gaza side of the border. But the company told the Israeli human rights group Gisha that, even if finds the funds required for spare parts that are still required to do other repair work, it’s not clear when or if the parts would be delivered, as a result of Israel’s decision to limit the flow of goods into Gaza to items required for “humanitarian” purposes.
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As noted, the Israel Electric Corporation completed repairs to Israeli power lines supplying Gaza on Sunday afternoon, Haaretz has learned. The IEC supplies Gaza 120 megawatts of electricity a day, via ten power lines. Five of the lines were damaged during the war.
Repairs began on May 23, two days after the cease-fire took effect, Haaretz was told. The work was performed even though IEC employees had threatened not to perform the work until two missing Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers are returned to Israel from Gaza.
“The IEC treats all its customers equally,” the Israeli electric utility said when asked whether repairs were therefore being held up. “Electricity is an essential product, unrelated to the conflict.” The damage was significant and each line was hit at a number of locations, meaning that considerable time was required to find and then repair the damage and additional staff was dispatched to do the work, the IEC added.
And indeed, by Monday morning, Gazans were getting 6 hours of continuous electricity followed by 12 hours without power, as supplies increased to 165 megawatts.