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ISRAEL-OPT: Temporary stay on Gaza power cuts

JERUSALEM, 30 October 2007 (IRIN) - Israel's Attorney-General, Menachem Mazuz, has ordered a temporary halt to the state's plan to cut power supplies to the Gaza Strip pending evaluations and assurances from the government and military that such a move would not cause undue harm to the population.

Mazuz, however, did green light other new sanctions, including Israel's limiting of fuel supplies to Gaza by up to 15 percent and the closure of the Sufa Crossing, used to bring humanitarian goods into the enclave.

Israel provides Gaza with more than 60 percent of its electricity.

The attorney-general's announcement came after a petition to Israel's High Court by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, which said cutting fuel and electricity was illegal. The Court on 28 October rejected a request for an injunction against the sanctions but gave the state five days to respond to the petition.

"The consequences of disrupting electricity and fuel supplies cannot be controlled or predicted … International law does not allow 'minor' punishment. It bans collective punishment entirely," the petitioners argued.

Harsh criticism from the UN and EU

Israel's action has drawn harsh criticism from the UN and the EU. However, Shlomo Dror, from Israel's Ministry of Defence, said: "There will not be a humanitarian crisis," saying that the sanctions had been "carefully and thoroughly" considered before being enacted.

In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 29 October that he "believes strongly that punitive measures taken by Israel which harm the wellbeing of the entire population of the Gaza Strip are unacceptable".

He added that the restriction on fuel and electricity supplies "deepens the humanitarian distress" in the enclave, home to 1.5 million people, of which about 70 percent are refugees. More than 1.1 million people are dependant on UN aid.

The European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, visiting the region, called on Israel to act with "restraint", citing humanitarian issues - the need to avoid "collective punishment" - and concern for the peace process.

Israel's decision to cut supplies came after its cabinet last month declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile entity" due to Hamas’s control over the enclave and militants' rocket fire, which targets southern Israel and border crossings.

Both Ban and Ferrero-Waldner condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks, which have not ceased, despite the sanctions.

Since June, Gaza's border has been open only for humanitarian supplies; the closure of the Sufa Crossing will further limit imports, including food supplies.

This, said John Ging, the Gaza head of UNRWA, the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees, could have "a detrimental impact on an already dreadful situation", adding that now only one, much smaller crossing remained open.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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