Rachelle Kliger
The Media Line
January 21, 2010 - 1:00am

An impending shortage of cooking gas in the Gaza Strip is likely to cause a humanitarian disaster unless Israel allows more into the coastal enclave, say industry representatives.

With winter temperatures in Gaza dropping, petrol and gas vendors say Palestinians are getting only a third of the gas need for heating and cooking.

"The whole of the Gaza Strip requires 6,000 tons of cooking gas a month but now we’re only getting 2,000 tons," Mahmoud Shawwa, head of the Petrol and Gas Union in the Gaza Strip told The Media Line. "If we don’t get the adequate amounts, it will be catastrophic."

"We don’t know how we can distribute such a small amount," he said. "It will affect hospitals, bakeries and homes, especially elderly people. It will be a huge problem and people could die."

Israel restricted the passage of commodities into the Gaza Strip in 2006 after the hard-line Hamas, designated a terror organization in Israel and the United States, won the legislative elections. Israel imposed further restrictions after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007.

Israel is allowing limited goods into Gaza and maintains it is doing all it can in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster there.

An IDF source said the army was aware that demand for gas regularly increases during the winter months and stressed that in the past the army has accommodated this requirement.

"The main problem is the security situation at the crossings," the source said. "Just last week we had five mortar rounds fired near Kerem Shalom crossing."

Kerem Shalom is the main cargo crossing point into the Gaza Strip, while Nahal Oz has a fuel depot, which is used when there is congestion at Kerem Shalom. A third crossing, Karni contains a conveyor belt for grain, while the Erez crossing is for civilians and vehicular traffic.

"Nahal Oz is only opened when there isn’t enough room at Kerem Shalom, but there’s a security problem at Nahal Oz," the IDF source said. "It’s not sufficiently protected, there have been mortars fired there recently and we don’t want to put anyone at risk. Despite this security risk, we’ve opened Nahal Oz crossing at times in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster, but we can’t have it open every day. We don’t want to take on that responsibility when there are drivers and civilians working at the crossing who could get hurt."

Employees at Dor Alon, an Israeli company and the main provider of gas to the Gaza Strip are on a limited strike, further reducing provisions, the source said.

Dor Alon could not be reached for comment.

The shelter and heating situation is especially harsh since many buildings in Gaza have still not been reconstructed since Israel’s military operation there one year ago.

It appears that the illegal smuggling industry in Gaza is not able to alleviate the gas shortage.

Illegal smuggling tunnels dug across the Egyptian-Gazan border have become the economic lifeline of Gazans ever since restrictions were imposed on the passage of goods into Gaza.

Palestinians argue that because Israel sealed off the crossing points into and out of the Gaza Strip, the tunnels are the sole means of bringing food and necessities into Gaza.

Tunnels have been used to bring in anything and everything, from basic foodstuffs to cigarettes, dollars and live animal stock.

Israel charges that the tunnels are also used to smuggle in ammunition, weapons, missiles and terrorists.

But Shawwa said the tunnels were destructive to the economy and were not being used for smuggling cooking gas.

"It’s impossible to smuggle in gas," he said. "You need special agreements and arrangements. Logistically it’s impossible."

Unusually heavy rains over the last few days have caused flashfloods in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Gaza Strip, putting further strains on the area. The Hamas government, which is governing the strip, declared a state of emergency after families south of Gaza City were evacuated from their homes due to the floods and many cattle and poultry were swept away in the heavy downpour.


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