Sewage overflows Gaza streets after daylight electricity failure

Today, sewage flooded the streets in Gaza due to an electricity failure — due to a shortage of industrial diesel fuel to run Gaza’s only power plant — due to Israeli military-imposed fuel cuts — to give force to an Israeli government proclamation that Gaza is “hostile territory” or an “enemy entity” …

Photo by Ismail Zaydah for Reuters

Is this any way to run an occupation?Photo by Ismail Zaydah

Israel Deputy Defense Minister: Israel trying to avoid humanitarian crisis in Gaza

The Jerusalem Post has reported that in today’s meeting of Israel’s Security Cabinet — at which Defense Minister Ehud Barak was not present, to the great annoyance of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, thus apparently preventing the taking of any decisions — “Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i reported that Israel was transferring fuel to the Gaza Strip but that the Palestinians were not picking it up at the Nahal Oz fuel terminal. ‘Israel is transferring goods to the Gaza Strip to avoid a humanitarian crisis there’, he said”.
here .

Another IDF General Closure of West Bank and Gaza — last night

The IDF spokesperson announced that “In accordance with the Minister’s of Defense decision and in light of security assessments, a general closure of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, began last night, April 29th, 2008 at 12:00am, and will be lifted on Thursday, May 1st, 2008 at 12:00am. The lifting of the closure will be carried out in accordance with security assessments. For the duration of the closure the passage of those in need of humanitarian aid as well as doctors, medical personnel and additional professional groups will be authorized by the District Coordination and Liaison offices. The IDF regards Remembrance Day as a highly sensitive time, security wise. Accordingly, the IDF will increase its alertness in order to ensure the safety of the citizens of Israel, while preserving, to the best of its ability, the daily life of the Palestinian population”.

Palestinian and Israeli groups issue urgent joint call for end to fuel cuts to Gaza

An urgent call was issued jointly Tuesday by Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups who are calling for an end to restrictions on Gaza’s fuel supply — and to the “unprecedented harm being caused to Gaza’s humanitarian needs”.

The groups, in their joint statement, expressed “concern and outrage at the systematic dismantling of the Gaza Strip’s vital systems”.

They called for an immediate end by Israel — the occupying power – to the six-month long military-ordered restrictions on fuel supply that have paralyzed Gaza’s infrastructure and endangered the health and well-being of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents.

The fuel cuts have drained reserves and left essential systems vulnerable to supply interruptions, the statement explained.

Meanwhile, Haaretz newspaper reports that Israel is somehow trying to block criticism by international donors and/or the Quartet in meetings scheduled in London on the 1st and 2nd of May.

Haaretz notes that Egypt also made a complaint a few days ago to both the UN Security Council and to the Quartet describing “a dangerously explosive situation in the Gaza Strip”.  The Egyptian complaint apparently also expressed concern that “an explosion in the Gaza Strip would result in a serious escalation in the region’.”

The Israeli military exerts total control on all entry and exit of people and goods to and from Gaza.  Fuel can enter only through a complex fuel transfer system at Nahal Oz crossing.

“Since an attack on the Nahal Oz crossing on 9 April that killed two civilians, Israel has restricted fuel supplies to levels far below even the minimum, insufficient levels promised to the Supreme Court. It has transferred no diesel or petrol supply and just 1/3 of the industrial diesel needed for Gaza’s power plant”, the statement by the human rights groups explained.

Due to the shortage of fuel, the Gaza power plant reduced its output to only 40 MW of electricity.  It had been producing 55 MW daily earlier in April, and 65 MW a day before the fuel cuts began on 28 October.  It is capable, now, of producing 80 MW of electricity daily, if only it had enough fuel.

The statement notes that two days before the deadly attack on Nahal Oz, on 7 April, “Gaza’s petroleum company owners began striking, refusing to deliver the minimal quantities of petrol and diesel on the Palestinian side of Nahal Oz”.

Reuters reported Monday that Hamas is now pleading with the Association for Petroleum Companies in Gaza to release the fuel that is blocked in storage in Nahal Oz.

Sari Bashi, executive director of the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, who has led the court battle and co-authored Tuesday’s statement, said in an interview on Tuesday that “Certainly the strike intensifies the shortage of fuel in Gaza, but the main problem is that Israel is restricting the quantities it permits in”.

“We note that the fuel shortages were manufactured by Israel’s policy of closures, and of depriving the people of Gaza of the fuel needed for daily life”, Bashi added.  “We’re very concerned about the effects of the fuel restrictions on the residents of Gaza”.

Bashi said that the Israeli military has replied via the State Attorney to Gisha’s questions about the urgent need for delivery of all types of fuel to Gaza, acknowledging that only 1 million liters of fuel per week have been permitted into Gaza for the power plant – because there have been attacks at the crossings, according to the IDF.

The military did not indicate that it was backing down from its commitment to Israel’s Supreme Court to deliver a minimum of 2.2 million liters of fuel per week for Gaza’s vital power plant, Bashi said.

Instead, the military explained that it is interpreting this commitment as being subject to conditions on the ground which can justify further reductions in fuel to Gaza, Bashi said.

The military wrote that “The State is permitted to take the necessary steps to defend the soldiers and citizens of Israel, including closing the crossings into Gaza, even if that means a de facto reduction of the quantities of fuel that are delivered”.

But, Bashi said, “We are asking why, if they can pump some fuel in, why can’t they pump more”?

Bashi says the military reported that 300 tons of cooking gas were delivered today (Tuesday), UNRWA took some 55,000 liters of regular diesel fuel – and, according to the Israeli the military, Hamas took 22,000 liters of diesel and 22,000 liters of gasoline/benzene used for transportation.

The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that Hamas gunmen on Tuesday stole fuel from the Palestinian side of the Nahal Oz fuel terminal.  According to the Jerusalem Post, “Mojahed Salam[a], head of the Palestinian Authority’s gas agency, told Israel Radio that that his workers were threatened at gunpoint and that he told them obey the orders of the armed men so they wouldn’t get hurt.  ‘They took control of the fuel and fired toward the terminal in order to torpedo the flow of fuel to the Strip and to pressure Egypt into reopening the Rafah border crossing’, said Salam[a].

[Actually, the Jerusalem Post story said that Hamas stole fuel that was destined for the Gaza power plant — but that is industrial diesel fuel that simply cannot be used instead of regular diesel for transport or to power stand-by generators.]

The regular diesel fuel and the gasoline/benzene is ordered through the Palestinian Authority, and payment is channeled through the PA as well.  The industrial diesel fuel used only for the power plant is ordered by the PA, but paid for by the European Union, and is handled separately.

Nine Israeli and Palestinian organizations signed Tuesday’s urgent call for a lifting of fuel restrictions – one fewer than the number who had unsuccessfully petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to block the fuel cuts.  The Galilee-based Israeli-Arab organization ADALAH did not join in today’s statement.  An Adalah official explained that they could not sign because their mandate, as a human rights organization, is only to address state parties, but not non-state actors.

Tuesday’s statement was addressed both to Israel and to “armed groups in Gaza”.

The nine groups who endorsed the statement said, jointly: “We emphasize Israel’s obligation as the primary duty bearer under the law of occupation to ensure the humane treatment of the civilian population, including with respect to the provision of fuel to the Gaza Strip, ensuring the maintenance of hospitals, public health services and food and medical supplies and refraining from rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population”.

The fuel is needed to generate electricity, power hospitals, run transportation, pump water and sewage, and provide for basic social and economic needs, the statement said.

The statement called on “armed groups in Gaza to refrain from attacking civilians, including at the crossings that channel fuel, food, and other goods into the Gaza Strip”, and it also called on Israel “to refrain from attacking civilians and depriving them of basic rights and needs”.

“Acts of reprisals and collective penalties against civilians are unjustified and could be considered war crimes that must be investigated and stopped”, the statement said.  The groups also called on “all parties to respect their obligations under human rights and humanitarian law, especially the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants”.

Pressure mounts in Gaza

Just back from the long Passover holiday, the Israeli State Attorney (Chief Prosecutor) has promised to write a letter to the Israeli human rights organization Gisha by today giving answers to questions about the provision of fuel to Gaza.

On Sunday, another one million liters of industrial diesel fuel was permitted to enter Gaza, and was delivered to Gaza’s only power plant – but that is enough for just three or four days operation.  Otherwise, the plant would have been out of fuel and would have had to shut down today.

Last week, one million liters of fuel for the plant was also delivered.

But, the Israeli military told the Israeli High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) at the end of January that it would deliver 2.2 million liters of fuel a week for the power plant.  Even this is not enough to operate two turbines at reduced capacity, and the electrical output has varied between 40-65 MW a day, according to quantities delivered, and demand for electricity.

The situation in the Gaza Strip is verging on anarchy.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority accuse Hamas of having a strategic plan to close down the border crossings, including Nahal Oz where all fuel is transferred to Gaza by the private Israeli Company, Dor Alon, under Palestinian Authority contract.

At the moment, the only fuel getting into Gaza is for the power plant.

The Association for Petroleum Companies in Gaza has refused to accept deliveries of restricted quantities of regular diesel fuel used for transport or for stand-by generators, or of gasoline/ benzene for automobiles.

As the IDF regularly complains, the Nahal Oz fuel storage is full to capacity with this undelivered fuel.

After the Hamas military coup against Fatah security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007, the head of the Palestinian Gas and Petroleum Authority in the Ramallah-based Ministry of Finance, Mojahed Salama, asked the Association for Petroleum Companies in Gaza to be in charge of receiving and distributing the fuel transferred into Gaza.  The majority of the Ministry of Finance employees are unable to function in Gaza due to the current security situation, Salama said.

Mahmoud al-Shawwa, Head of the Association for Petroleum Companies in Gaza, said in an interview in Ramallah last week that the limited quantities Israel was allowing to enter was not enough – just 15 to 20% of the normal daily requirements for gasoline/benzene, and just 25-20% of regular diesel.

This caused problems for all the owners of gas stations in Gaza, Mr. Shawwa said – including security problems, because the supplies are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and there are no police who control the angry customers.  Sometimes, he said, there is even shooting at the gas stations.

So, the Association went on strike, and refused to accept the limited deliveries.

Fuel available on the black market is double and triple the price at the pumps, Mr. Shawwa explained – with regular diesel that normally sells for 5.35 NIS now selling for 10 NIS a liter, and benzene/gasoline that normally sells for 6 NIS going for up to 20 NIS.

The fuel being sold on the black market was brought into Gaza by Hamas after they destroyed the wall at the Rafah crossing in late January, Mr. Shawwa indicated.  He says that Hamas brought in two million liters of regular diesel, and 500,000 liters of benzene/gasoline.

Even that will not last too long, however.

Normal daily needs are for 200,000 liters of regular diesel fuel, Mr. Shawwa said, while the Israeli military authorized delivery of only 114,000 liters.  And normal daily needs for gasoline/benzene is 40-50,000 liters, while a supply of only 10-11,000 per day was permitted to enter.

“We are 1.5 million citizens in Gaza”, Mr. Shawwa said, “and Hamas are just a small part of these people.  But the problems are faced not by Hamas, but by the normal people who are suffering”.

Mr. Shawwa said he has sent many letters through the American Consulate in Jerusalem, addressed to the American government and people, asking them “to stand on the side of the people in Gaza … who are suffering because of Hamas – yet a few days ago former President Carter was sitting with Hamas – why?”.  He said he hopes that “the American people will open both their eyes, and see both the peoples of Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza Strip as well”.

Mr. Shawwa also said he told the Americans that “Hamas needs the suffering of the people – it’s the best situation for Hamas”.  And, he said, “we sent the same message to the Israeli side”.

Meanwhile, an attempt to transfer a limited quantity of fuel to UNRWA operations from the full Nahal Oz fuel storage facilities was blocked by Palestinian farmers and fisherman who say they need the fuel as well.

UNRWA has said it has no more fuel to carry out its food distributions in Gaza.  Palestinian refugees demonstrated in front of UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters on Sunday to protest the lack of food deliveries.

Reuters is reporting today that Hamas is now pleading with the Association for Petroleum Companies in Gaza to release the fuel that is blocked in storage in Nahal Oz,

And, Israel continues to accuse Hamas of being responsible for the situation.

IAEA criticizes Israel's "unilateral use of force" against Syria last 6 September

ABC reported after the much-anticipated briefing by the U.S. Administration to members of Congress on Israel’s attack on a Syrian target last September that “Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and ranking member Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., are furious with the Bush administration for failing to brief Congress until eight months after Israeli jets bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site Sept. 6, 2007 … Leading lawmakers from the House Intelligence Committee accused the Bush administration of leaving them out of the loop by refusing to provide adequate intelligence briefings on North Korean help in constructing a nuclear facility in Syria until today. Both sides of the aisle warned the administration it would now face a steeper battle to gain congressional approval for any deal that may be reached to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program through the so-called six-party talks … Neither Israeli nor U.S. officials had previously acknowledged the bombing in public and, according to satellite imagery taken in recent months, Syria quietly paved over the wreckage in an attempt to hide what had been built there. Hoekstra suggested that today’s briefing was motivated more by the administration’s attempts to advance the six-party talks than to fulfill its obligations to keep the relevant oversight committees on Capitol Hill informed. Those talks have deadlocked in recent months over North Korea’s failure to provide a satisfactory declaration of its nuclear programs by a Dec. 31, 2007 deadline. A deal may be in the works, however, under which North Korea would simply “acknowledge” U.S. concerns about Pyongyang’s proliferation activities”. The full ABC report can be seen here.

The Israeli press has gone quiet again — except for some anxiety-producing speculation that this briefing will provoke a Syrian attack (while there is much public activity elsewhere about Turkish efforts to bring Israel and Syria back into peace negotiations”.

Meanwhile, the IAEA is indignant. AP reported that “The head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency angrily criticized Israel on Friday for bombing an alleged Syrian nuclear facility, and chastised the U.S. for withholding information on the site.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei also was not provided information about the site until Thursday, the same day U.S. officials briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee about evidence including dozens of photographs taken from ground level and footage of the interior of the building gathered by spy satellites after the Israeli strike seven months ago … ‘The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts’, ElBaradei’s office said. Additionally, ‘the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime‘, it said … Top U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters in Washington Thursday said they had high confidence in the judgment that North Korea had aided Syria with its nuclear program and the intention was to produce plutonium. But they claimed only low confidence for the conclusion that it was meant for weapons development, in part because there was no reprocessing facility at the site — something that would be needed to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel for use in a bomb. The Syrian reactor was within weeks or months of being functional when Israeli jets destroyed it, a top U.S. official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The official said the facility was mostly completed but still had needed significant testing before it could have been declared operational”. The full AP report can be read here .

Syria says the evidence is fabricated.

There is a very interesting analysis which analyzes “inconsistencies in the presentation” and suggests that the Administration’s slide-show to Congress could have been — indeed, that it was — fake, posted over at the Moon of Alabama blog, here.

This posting calls the presentation an “elaborate information operation”, and says: “Some of these pictures are manipulated. Others might have been made in a different context and at a different place than alleged. Some are outright misleading.”

It also says: “one slide shows some undefinable structure in a very blurry aerial photograph next to a CIA computer graphic and the text says: ‘Internal Structure of Destroyed Building Matches Reactor Computer Model’. One really wonders how that could be. These CIA indeed managed to paint a computer graphic so that it fits their interpretation of a very blurry photograph. Who would have expected such a capability within that organisation?”

Did Syria and Iran send peace signal to Israel? What about Lebanon?

A Guest Post from Aletheia Kallos/MD:


Geopolitical Diary: Syria and Israel Hint at Peace Talks
April 24, 2008 | 0154 GMT

The morning of April 21, we woke up to a report in the Syrian media saying that Israel had agreed to hand the Golan Heights back to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement. The Syrian story was reported in the Israeli media, with no comment from the Olmert government, although several Israeli politicians vigorously condemned the idea. Since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was reported to be on vacation, we figured there was a time delay and settled back waiting for the Israeli government to deny the Syrian report.

That’s when it became interesting. Rather than denying the report, Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said, “I have nothing to add beyond what the prime minister said on Friday in his interviews with the Israeli press about his desire for peace with Syria.” Olmert had said, “Very clearly we want peace with the Syrians and are taking all manner of action to this end. President Bashar al-Assad knows precisely what our expectations are and we know his. I won’t say more.”

On Wednesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem held a press conference in Tehran, of all places, along with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Al-Moallem said there that “if Israel is serious and wants peace, nothing will stop the renewal of peace talks”. Another Syrian minister, speaking on al Jazeera at about the same time, said that “Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions; on the grounds of the return
of the Golan Heights in full to Syria.”

So now we have the Syrian foreign minister offering peace talks with the Israelis while standing next to the Iranian foreign minister, who apparently did not go into cardiac arrest; another Syrian minister confirming this and implying that the quid pro quo for peace is the Golan Heights; and the Israeli prime minister’s office refusing to deny these reports while referring back to a statement made by the prime minister in which he said that Israel wants peace with
the Syrians and both sides know what the terms are.

This is not quite the same thing as saying that a deal has been made. What it is saying is that the terms of such a deal are clearly understood by both sides and that neither side is walking away from the table, which means that the terms are at least in the ball park — so much so from the Syrian side that it was worth going to Tehran to talk about it with the Iranians, and apparently the Iranians did not back away from Syria. That means that the Syrians not only
have their ally on board, but are signaling the Israelis that the ally — Iran — can live with the terms, which of course opens other vistas.

The talk today has focused on the Golan Heights, at least as far as the Syrians are concerned. From the Israeli point of view, the Heights are not nearly as militarily critical as they once might have appeared. While holding the Heights — which, unlike Gaza, are fairly lightly populated — the Syrians fired artillery at Israeli settlements. That was a problem, but not a strategic threat. Holding the Golan Heights did pose a challenge to the Israelis. In the 1973 War, the Israelis had to fight with their backs to the Golan escarpment in order to block the Syrians. Had the Syrians held the Heights, and the Israelis were in the hills on the other side of the Jordan River, the strategic situation would have been different. The Syrians could not have taken the Israelis by surprise, and the armor descending the Heights would have been in the killing ground for Israeli armor, artillery and missiles as they descended. Moreover, in today’s
military environment, conventional artillery is vulnerable to everything from cruise missiles to helicopters firing Hellfire missiles and to computerized counter-battery fire. Whatever the argument was for taking the Heights in 1967, the military situation has evolved since then.

It is therefore not inconceivable that Olmert would trade the Golan Heights for a peace treaty. But the real issue between Israel and Syria isn’t the Golan Heights. The issue is Lebanon.

Syria’s fundamental interest is to the west, where it has strategic and economic interests. It wants to be the dominant power in Lebanon. Israel also has deep interests in Lebanon, which are primarily defensive. It does not want Lebanon used — primarily by Hezbollah At this point — as a base from which to attack Israel. Israel and Syria had an informal understanding after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon that Syria would have a free hand there and would be expected to control Hezbollah. There is a basis for understanding here as well — one which would leave many Lebanese in a difficult position, but might satisfy Israeli and Syrian interests.

But before that comes the domestic battle in Israel. There are powerful forces that would argue, one, the Golan is much more significant militarily than we have portrayed it here; two, allowing Syria to dominate Lebanon gives Damascus another axis from which to attack Israel later; and three, Israel would find a Syrian-Iranian force to its north over the next generation. These are not trivial arguments and can be reinforced by the Tehran press conference, which signaled that the Syrians are not acting independently of the Iranians.

At the same time, Olmert will argue that peace is worth the risk and point to Egypt as an example. The argument will go on, but now at least we are seeing where the various odd events of the past few weeks were leading — and it is not clear that it cannot end in war. If this falls apart, as it well might, the situation could rapidly spiral out of control as both countries start to maneuver in Lebanon.

All of this is fascinating, but what stands out is the fact that the Iranians have signaled that they can live with a deal with Israel. In the long run, the implications of that are the most interesting”.

Israeli military turns fuel tap on for Gaza Power Plant – authorizes a large but limited delivery today

The Israeli military has re-opened Nahal Oz fuel transfer terminal on Wednesday, and informed Palestinian authorities that it has instructed the private Israeli company Dor Alon to deliver 1 million liters of industrial diesel fuel needed to operate Gaza’s only power plant, just hours before the plant would have had to shut down without a resupply.

This may be the largest quantity ever transferred at Nahal Oz in one day.  If the delivery takes place as planned, it will allow Gaza’s power plant to operate another three days after today – or until Sunday night.

At that point, without a further fuel delivery, the power plant will again face shut-down.

This is no way to operate a vital public utility, on which human lives depend.

The absolutely most critical needs for electricity are in Gaza’s hospitals, and for removal of Gaza’s waste-water, which could otherwise back up and cause life-threatening floods.

But, the Israeli military has been making absolutely crucial decisions that affect Gaza’s electricity supply without any oversight or accountability.

The Ministry of Defense is carrying out the mandate conferred by the Israeli cabinet on 19 September, when the government declared that the Gaza Strip was an “enemy entity”, or “hostile territory”, because of firing of projectiles from Gaza onto Israeli territory, which still continues.

The Israeli Defense Minister’s publicly-stated strategy is to permit “no luxuries” into Gaza, and to provide the bare minimum necessary to sustain life – while saying at the same time it will not intentionally allow its calibrated sanctions to collapse the situation into a complete “humanitarian crisis”, a highly risky strategy.

The Israeli High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) declined to intervene in fuel cuts that began on 28 October and are still in effect today – with different restrictions placed on different categories of fuel for different purposes.   On 27 January, the Supreme Court ruled that the fuel cuts – and separate cuts in directly-supplied electricity – were “legal”, as long as the military ensured they would not create a “humanitarian crisis”.

There are apparently quite various appreciations of exactly what that means.

In addition, if there is no intention to create a humanitarian crisis – and here, it has been stated many times over that the intention is not to create a humanitarian crisis – its legality could very well continue to be upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Israeli military said that the hold-up in deliveries this week was due to continued problems with Palestinian firing at the crossing – an issue they said they were working on.

Officially, the Gaza power plant has been maintained at the original Phase I level of some 2.2 million liters of fuel a week.  However, last week, just 1.2 million liters of industrial diesel was delivered last Wednesday afternoon and Thursday.  This week, only 1 million liters has been promised.

Cooking gas was allowed in last week.  But regular diesel fuel (used to operate stand-by generators and some vehicles) and gasoline (for cars) has not been allowed into Gaza for many days.  Most cars are no longer running – and those that are, have been converted to use either cooking gas or cooking oil

The Israeli public holiday of Passover will officially end next Sunday, when fuel shipments could – at least theoretically – be resumed.

But, attacks on Israel, or on the border crossings with Gaza, could disrupt any delivery plans.

The Israeli human rights organization Gisha, which led a group of ten Israeli and Palestinian organizations trying to block the fuel cuts and separate cuts in directly-supplied Israel electricity (which seem to have been rescinded), was prepared to go back to the Court today if the deliveries had not been resumed.

Gisha’s Sari Bashi sent an urgent letter to the State Attorney’s office on Tuesday urging that industrial diesel fuel should be delivered to the Gaza power plant in time to prevent its imminent shut-down – by Wednesday evening.

Bashi said Wednesday morning that she is still waiting for some more answers from the State Attorney concerning the Israeli Military’s instructions regarding the non-industrial (or regular) diesel fuel.

Even United Nations operations are now being badly adversely affected by the fuel deliveries, and relief agencies say they may be unable to carry out their mandates in the coming days.

The last time the Gaza power plant had to shut down because of lack of fuel was on 20 January.  On 22 January, after an international outcry, the Israeli military ordered the fuel shipments to resume.  On 23 January, Gazans broke down the barrier at the Rafah crossing, and hundreds of thousands of people streamed across the border to peacefully go shopping, and then peacefully returned home.

The Israeli military-imposed sanctions affecting Gaza have only been tightened since then.

Almost unbearable uncertainty in Gaza – "explosion" feared

The Israeli human rights organization Gisha sent an urgent letter to the State Attorney´s office on Tuesday urging saying that the Israeli military should authorize delivery of industrial diesel fuel to Gaza´s only power plant in time to prevent its imminent shut-down – by Wednesday evening.

Gisha´s Executive Director Sari Bashi reported that Rafiq Maliha, Project Manager at the Gaza power plant, warned in a letter Tuesday to the Palestinian Energy Authority that “In case there are no sufficient fuel deliveries, GPGC [Gaza Power Generating Company] would be forced to shut down the power plant completely by tomorrow evening time”.

Reached in Gaza, Maliha said he does not know now the exact time, but the power plant will run out of fuel sometime on Wednesday evening. He added that he has received no word at all so far about possible fuel deliveries Wednesday.

Bashi added that “if the power plant shuts down, utility officials expect power outages of 8-16 hours per day throughout Gaza – power outages which increase reliance on dwindling reserves of fuel for back-up generators”.

However, none of the regular diesel fuel that is used to run generators has been allowed into Gaza for many days, either.

Bashi says that Gisha has written two letters to the Defense Ministry since 13 April concerning this impending crisis, but got no response. Today´s letter to the State Attorney´s office is a pre-litigation procedure, she said. “We want to be ready, in case it will be necessary to make an appeal to the Court on Wednesday, because the power plant will shut down Wednesday night if it doesn´t get more fuel”.

The Israeli Defense Minister’s publicly-stated strategy is to permit “no luxuries” into Gaza, and to provide the bare minimum necessary to sustain life – while saying at the same time it will not intentionally allow it to collapse into a complete “humanitarian crisis”, a risky strategy.

As a consequence of this strategy, any delays in fuel delivery, or any closure of the Nahal Oz fuel terminal, can cause a crisis at the Gaza power plant which provides electricity to Gaza City and the central Gaza region, where one-third of Gaza´s inhabitants live.

Gisha Legal Adviser Kenneth Mann said after the 27 January Supreme Court hearing that to the Justices, a humanitarian crisis is apparently more than enormous discomfort and distress – it must involve actual loss of human life.

But warnings from Gaza about the worsening situation have been increasing in recent days.

Gisha led efforts last year of a group of ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations to get the Israeli High Court of Justice to block fuel cuts – and separate electricity cuts – to Gaza, after the Israeli Government declared Gaza a “hostile entity” or “enemy territory” on 19 September, in response to Palestinian firing of projectiles from Gaza onto Israeli territory.

The Supreme Court declined to intervene in the fuel cuts, which began on 28 October.

The Court then ruled on 27 January that it accepted the Israeli military´s assurance that it was monitoring the situation and would not allow a humanitarian crisis to occur in the Gaza Strip.

The separate electricity cuts started on 7 February – but, while it is not totally clear, a spokesperson for the IDF Coordination of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories gave this journalist information suggesting that Israel is now delivering slightly more directly-supplied electricity to Gaza than it was previously.

Bashi said that she told the State Attorney that “that the supply stoppages violate the state’s commitment to the Israeli Supreme Court to permit a ´minimum´ amount of fuel to enter Gaza”, and she requested a response by the end of the day Tuesday “in order to preserve the ability to appeal to the Supreme Court before the feared shut-down”.

The IDF announced again today that it was keeping Nahal Oz terminal – where all fuel destined for Gaza is transferred – closed again for another day. Since an attack on the terminal from Gaza on 9 April in which two employees of the private Israeli company Dor Alon which has an exclusive contract to provide Palestinian-ordered fuel to Gaza were killed, there were large-scale deliveries only last Wednesday afternoon and Thursday, but that fuel is now nearly all used up.

Officials at Gaza´s power plant have also feared the effects of delays during the current Passover holiday week in Israel. Because of the holiday, the State Attorney´s office is minimally staffed with an on-call attorney, Bashi said.

The Gaza power plant has been operating two turbines on partial loads to maintain fuel as long as possible, but this must be done manually, and is both difficult and dangerous. On Monday afternoon, Maliha told this reporter that “It´s very difficult to manage. It would be easier for us to stop and restart operations than to do what we are doing. But, we´ll continue as far as we can”.

Maliha was speaking about technical requirements. Another closure of the Gaza power plant could be catastrophic.

Any electricity shortage has adverse affects on the life support systems and the operating theaters — and even on the laundry and sanitation systems — at Gaza City’s main Shifa Hospital.

Maher en-Najjar of the Gaza Coastal Waters Municipality reported today that two-thirds of Gaza´s waste water pumping stations have fuel for only five days, while one-third of these sewage pumping stations are totally out of fuel and are now discharging waste into an overflow collection or directly into the Mediterranean sea, to protect against flooding that could endanger human life. Gaza´s sewage treatment plants are totally out of fuel, he said, and Gaza´s 125 water wells operating on electricity are nearly out of fuel for back-up generators, while the 15 water wells that do not operate on electricity are now out of fuel.

Carter and Hamas discussed details of prisoner swap

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter discussed details of a prisoner-swap plan with Hamas leaders during a just-concluded visit to the region, according to the head of the Carter Center Office in Ramallah, Timothy Rothermel. 

There was apparently disagreement between Hamas and Carter on this  – and not only on Carter’s proposal for a 30-day unilateral Hamas ceasefire. 

Carter apparently put forth a new list of Palestinian detainees to be exchanged, according to Rothermel, for IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been detained somewhere in Gaza since June 2006. 

Carter’s list, which Rothermel said Carter drew up himself, included members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and of the former National Unity Government who are in prison, as well as women and children. 

But, Rothermel said, Hamas leaders did not agree on Carter’s list, “because they had been working with their own list for quite some time”.   According to Rothermel, Carter “said he could try to understand it, as there had already been commitments to other people and families”. 

Israel’s Channel 10 Television News broadcast an interview with Carter on Monday in which Carter said that a letter from Shalit will soon be transferred to Shalit’s parents in Israel — through the Carter Center Office in Ramallah. 

Carter also asserted, in his comments to Channel 10 television,  that Shalit is well, and that there are plans to transfer Shalit to Egypt, “where he’ll certainly be safe and maybe visited by his parents”, Carter said, as soon as “the first phase of the prisoner exchange is fulfilled”. 

Negotiations over Shalit’s release have been prolonged, and complicated. 

Israel’s Debkafile wrote Monday that the only achievement of Carter’s mission was Hamas’ agreement to let Shalit write a letter to his parents.  Debkafile added that “As for the US politician’s effort to obtain the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier held incommunicado by Hamas for nearly two years, he reported that Egyptian officials said Israel had agreed to release 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails, but only accepted 71 on the list submitted by Hamas”.

Shalit was seized near the Kerem Shalom crossing where the south-eastern corner of Gaza intersects with both Israel and Egypt.  In retaliation, the IDF blew up Gaza’s only power plant – saying rather incongruously that the lack of electricity would make it harder for Shalit’s captors to move him around undetected.  Shalit’s capture was followed by a Hizballah attack on IDF soldiers near the Shebaa Farms area where Israel’s border intersects with Lebanon and Syria.  Two Israeli soldiers seized then by Hizballah are still missing.   In response to that attack, Israel launched what it has come to call the Second Lebanon War.  Recent unconfirmed reports have suggested these two Israeli soldiers may in fact now be dead.  

Gershon Baskin, Co-CEO [with Palestinian editor Hanna Siniora] of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), wrote about the negotiations with Hamas in the Jerusalem Post on Monday that “There is a package deal on the table. In the first stage Israel will have to release some 450 Palestinians from Israeli prison”. 

Baskin gave some details – including of his own involvement in the negotiations:  Although kidnapped by what are apparently three separate groups, Hamas has been charged with the negotiations, pretty much since the beginning of the negotiating process. Hamas issued its demands very soon after the abduction of Schalit. The only compromise that Hamas has shown since that time concerns the release of information on his welfare and actual proof that Gilad is alive and well. Initially Hamas demanded the release of all Palestinian women and minors in Israeli prisons, numbering some 450, in exchange for information … On September 9, 2006, 75 days after his abduction, a hand-written letter from Gilad finally reached the hands of the Egyptian mediators who at that time were still based in Gaza.   Hamas was led to understand that there would be some kind of confidence-building measure undertaken by Israel following the release of that letter. On September 12, 2006 it was announced that an Israeli military court had ordered the release of 16 Hamas politicians being held since the kidnapping … At the end of the day, the court order was reversed and none of the Hamas politicians were released at that time. The captors of Schalit immediately passed on a message (to me) that Israel was not taking the situation seriously and was in fact endangering the life of Schalit.   The very first messages that I was requested to deliver to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert concerning Schalit included Hamas demands for a package deal that would include a full bilateral cease-fire and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. To the best of my knowledge, those demands have not changed in the past 667 days and to the best of my assessment they will not change. It took quite some time, but Hamas did also eventually release a list of names of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. Recently I did receive some indication that Hamas might be willing to lessen the number (not significantly) but not what they call the “quality” of the prisoners, if the package deal is completed. Now, the package that they are talking about includes not only a full bilateral cease-fire for Gaza and the West Bank but also the opening of the Rafah border with Egypt and at least one of the crossings between Gaza and Israel (most likely Karni) and the prisoner exchange”…

Baskin added: “In my assessment, Hamas will not release Schalit without a cease-fire agreement. They perceive Schalit to be the life insurance policy that they are holding for the Hamas leaders in Gaza. They will not give up that policy without having a cease-fire in place. They demand a cease-fire in the West Bank as well because they assess that if there are Hamas and other leaders killed in the West Bank the cease-fire in Gaza will immediately breakdown as well. They are demanding a policy of economic revival because with the continuation of the economic siege on Gaza a cease-fire won’t hold as well”.  

Carter’s trip was put together rather quickly, Rothermel suggested.  It had originally been planned that Carter would travel with two other members of “The Elders”, a group formed by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday in 2007, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson (herself a former President of Ireland).  However, apparently because Israel was not happy, The Elders announced on 8 April that this trip would be “postponed”.   At that point, former President Carter decided to come on his own, as head of the Carter Center, Rothermel said.

Rothermel worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for 25 years, before retiring from a post in Jerusalem at the end of 2005.  Before joining the UN, Rothermel worked on the staff of former U.S. Congressman Bradford Morse, who in 1979 shepherded the first U.S. agreement to funnel aid for projects in the occupied Palestinian territory, with P.L.O. input and suggestions, and with Israeli concurrence, despite the ban at the time on doing business with the P.L.O. – but only on condition that the money would go only through the UNDP, and not the P.L.O. 

Rothermel returned in March on behalf of the Carter Center for a two-month trial period in Ramallah, and said he may come back again after he returns to the States in May, if the Carter Center decides that it would be useful. 

Asked if Carter had met Fatah leaders while in the region, Rothermel said he had met a number of personalities while in Ramallah, including some affiliated with Fatah, some with Hamas, and some independent. 

“He would have had extensive consultations with President Abbas, but Abbas was not here”, Rothermel said.  “My guess is that there will be some contact when Abbas is in Washington, he added. 

In the meanwhile, Rothermel said, Carter met on April 15 with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and had a “debriefing” with Fayyad again on Monday morning.

They discussed the formation of a government of National Conciliation which would contain only persons acceptable to both Fatah and Hamas, and which would have a unified security service. 

Rothermel noted that when he was with UNDP, Fayyad was at the International Monetary Fund, and “we were friends.  I respect him”, Rothermel said – though he declined to give any evaluation of Fayyad’s government.

Although Carter was denied Israeli permission to go to Gaza during this trip, Rothermel said that he was able to go in about two weeks ago. 

Rothermel said he had to walk in through the Erez crossing, which he said did not bother him as much as what he saw in Gaza.  The electricity was available even in his hotel only for a few hours a day.  Hotels, international organizations, and wealthy people in Gaza have stand-by generators, Rothermel said, but there is no diesel fuel available on the market to make the generators work.  “I was told that there are no more operations in the Gaza hospitals”, Rothermel said, “and food supplies are running low”.   He said he was able to get some transportation in Gaza due to support from his former colleagues at UNDP. 

Apparently because of his position that Hamas should be included in the present post-Annapolis peace negotiations, and his intention to meet Hamas leaders, Carter was boycotted by most members of the Israeli government during this trip.  Rothermel said that Carter commented, “It’s the first time in 30 years that none of my security has been provided by the Israeli government”.   (Rothermel did say that he noticed Israeli police cars accompanied Carter on some of his movements in Israel on his return Sunday night and in his appointments around Jerusalem on Monday).

But, Rothermel said, Carter was very warmly welcomed by the president of the Israeli Council on Foreign Affairs, David Kincaid, at a meeting on Monday.  Introducing Carter, Kincaid said that “What President Carter brokered in Camp David had the single most important impact on the life of Israel”.  Kincaid also said that some Israelis may object to the title of Carter’s most recent book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”, but that no Israelis objected to what Carter wrote in the book’s dedication: “To our first grandchild, with hopes that he will see peace and justice in the Holy Land”.