Last updated: 15 December, 2013

Israel begins fuel transfer for Gaza power plant

Gaza’s lone power station rumbled to life Sunday for the first time in more than seven weeks after receiving a long-awaited delivery of diesel, the electricity company said.

The Hamas-ruled enclave has struggled with massive flooding caused by winter downpours that began Wednesday, when a huge storm struck the Middle East, pummelling Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“The power station started reworking gradually after stopping for 50 days,” said Jamal Dirsawi, spokesman for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Co (GEDCO).

The plant, which supplies some 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity needs, fell silent on November 1 as stocks of diesel ran out.

“The first generator has started working, the second one will follow, and by this evening, the company should be able to generate around 60 megawatts of electricity,” Dirsawi told AFP.

Gaza has been suffering the most serious fuel crisis in its history, causing daily power outages of up to 16 hours, which hit homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, and water and sanitation plants.

The power station returned to life after receiving a delivery of fuel purchased from Israel by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority using funds donated by Qatar.

The PA helped facilitate the delivery via Israel, which the militant Hamas does not recognise.

Following a request from the United Nations, Israel on Friday allowed the transfer of gas for domestic heating and fuel pumps for draining floodwater.

In addition to the fuel for the power plant, Gaza would also receive “800,000 litres of diesel fuel for transportation… and another 200 tonnes of household gas,” the Israeli army said.

Raed Fatuh, the PA official in charge of the transfer of goods into Gaza, said deliveries of diesel and gas would continue on Monday and Tuesday.

Floods strand residents

This week’s torrential rains caused heavy flooding in Gaza, with thousands of residents evacuated from their homes and seeking refuge in schools.

An AFP correspondent said on Sunday the water level was dropping, but many residents were still stranded.

A UN statement said “approximately 10,000 persons had been evacuated from their homes as a result of flooding.”

Israel and the Palestinian territories have been pummelled by the fiercest storm in decades, with many areas cut off by heavy snowfall, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

Although the snowstorm had ended by Sunday, streets remained icy, causing schools to stay shut in Jerusalem and surrounding areas.

“It’s not over yet; there is a problem of road safety,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, which was postponed for five hours due to traffic conditions.

“We have to tell motorists to drive carefully.”

Major roads to the Holy City reopened in the afternoon, and public transport resumed, albeit on a limited basis.

The army used special vehicles to access communities that remained cut-off to provide food and water, and even used helicopters to evacuate some West Bank settlers who were suffering from hypothermia.

The Israeli Electric Co said 14,000 homes were still without power.

In the West Bank, there were widespread cuts to power supplies and telephone lines.

Schools and government offices were closed Sunday and there were to be no classes on Monday, a resident of Ramallah said.

Many roads in the hills around the city were still blocked and even where bulldozers had cleared snowdrifts, traffic was reduced to a single lane, resulting in long tailbacks, he said.

Some Israeli lawmakers called for a parliamentary probe into their country’s preparedness for the extreme weather.

As the storm raged Friday, the State Comptroller, Yosef Shapira, said he would launch an investigation.

But influential columnist Nahum Barnea said that nowhere can every possible eventuality be foreseen.

“There is no such thing as zero problems in coping with Mother Nature,” he wrote in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot, noting that other major cities in the world “become paralysed when they are hit with a storm of the kind we were hit with this weekend.”

Barnea, who is normally very critical of Netanyahu, praised the premier for allowing trains to travel to and from Jerusalem on Saturday — the Jewish sabbath — for the first time ever, reconnecting the snowed-in hilltop city to the rest of the country.