David Miller
The Media Line
August 25, 2010 - 12:00am

Israel has balked at a request to boost the amount of electricity it supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on grounds that it didn’t want to cooperate with “a terror organization.”

Quartet Representative Tony Blair made the request Monday to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Blaire’s spokesman confirmed to The Media Line.

“Mr. Blair did raise this issue and asked for an increase to the electricity output to Gaza,” the spokesman said. “Mr. Blair raised the issue at the request of the Palestinian Energy Authority in the Palestinian Authority. Our discussions are ongoing.”

Since the beginning of the year, Gaza has been experiencing power cuts - sometimes lasting for eight to ten hours - due to a shortage of industrial fuel to power its indigenous electric turbines. Israel supplies Gaza with about 60 percent of its electricity.

Blair's appeal encountered a cold refusal from Shalom, who is also the Israeli Minister for Regional Development.

"I expect the international community to pressure Hamas into accepting the Quartet's conditions," said Shalom in a press release published by his office following the meeting. "I regard Hamas as responsible for the suffering of residents in the Gaza Strip. Israel cannot afford to cooperate with a terror organization that wishes to annihilate it."

Shlaom's spokeswoman Lee Gat told The Media Line that the statement should not have been understood as an outright refusal to the Gazan request, but rather as Shalom's general approach regarding cooperation with Hamas.

Israel supplies Gaza with 120 megawatts of electricity through 10 power lines.

Hala Zibda of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority in Gaza said that the request for additional electricity was sent from the office of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, since no direct contact existed between the Israeli Government and Hamas.

"In 2005 Israel signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to provide electricity to Gaza through a new power line, number 161. The Palestinian Authority even paid part of the sum for its construction, but the Israelis never implemented the agreement," Zibda told The Media Line.

In June, Tony Blair held a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu following an Israeli government decision to loosen its ban on materials entering the Gaza Strip. "Over these coming months we need to improve life in Gaza," Blair said at that event.

Meanwhile, arrangements have been made to keep the electricity flowing after the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company finally paid its bill for diesel fuel to the Palestinian Authority. The money for the bill was raised by a cut in the salaries of PA civil servants.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced on Tuesday the resumption of 320,000 liters of diesel a day into Gaza for a limited period of five days. The breakthrough in Gaza's prolonged energy crisis was made possible after the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company transferred $2 million to the account of the Energy Authority in Ramallah.

According to the Palestinian NGO network, 600,000 liters of industrial diesel entered Gaza on Wednesday, meant to fuel two of Gaza's four power turbines.

"Tonight at five o’clock Gaza will be illuminated!" Amjad Al-Shawwa, head of the Palestinian Ngo Network told The Media Line.

Shawwa added that 600,000 more liters were scheduled to enter Gaza on Thursday, covering Gaza's energy demand over the weekend when border crossings with Israel were closed.

"The Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority also agreed to pressure Israel into completing the construction of power line 161 which would add between 30 and 50 megawatts to Gaza's power grid," Al-Shawwa said. "This, together with importing natural gas, would mean developments on the strategic level."

Al-Shawwa added that the Palestinian authority had paid Israel 7 million shekels for power line 161 in 2005, but it was never constructed due to Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 and Israel’s policy not to strengthen the rule of Hamas.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017