World and Nation

Facing Wide Criticism, Israel Opens Fuel Lines to Gaza Strip Temporarily

After widespread criticism of its decision to cut off supplies of industrial diesel oil required to run a power station that serves Gaza City and its hospitals, Israel resumed fuel shipments on Tuesday on what it said would be a temporary basis.

The European Union, which pays for the fuel, called the cutoff “collective punishment,” but Israeli officials said they were simply trying to convince Gazans of the need to stop militants from firing rockets into Israeli towns and farms.

On Tuesday, Israel pumped in about 750,000 liters of industrial diesel, part of the 2.2 million liters it said it would provide for one week only to Gaza’s main power station, which had shut down after its tanks ran dry.

On Tuesday afternoon, the plant started one of its three turbines, bringing power to parts of Gaza City that had been dark or running on generators. Rafiq Maliha, the project manager for the station, said the 2.2 million liters would be enough to produce up to 55 megawatts of electricity from the plant, which has a capacity of 80 megawatts with normal fuel supplies.

“But what do I do next week?” Maliha asked. “I have no reserves, so how can I plan? This power plant has nothing to do with the conflict and should be outside it.” He and Suheil Sheik, manager of the Gaza Electrical Distribution Co., also criticized Israel for not allowing the regular importation of spare parts for a system that is rapidly wearing down.

Sheik said it was impossible for his company to separate electrical power to hospitals from the surrounding neighborhood. Even before the fuel halt, he said, there were rolling power cuts in Gaza of six hours or more.

Israel provides more than 60 percent of Gaza’s power directly, and the Israeli Supreme Court has prevented the state from cutting that supply. But the court did not prevent Israel from cutting off fuel supplies, including gasoline. Egypt provides 7 percent of Gaza’s power, but only to the south. The power station, a third owned by an American company, was bombed by Israel in the summer of 2006 after the capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas.

Israel also provided 200,000 liters of regular diesel, with another 250,000 liters expected Wednesday; that fuel will be used for generators, especially at water-pumping plants, sewage-treatment facilities, and hospitals like Al Shifa, Gaza’s largest, which functioned Tuesday on diesel provided to it on Monday by the World Bank, the Red Cross, and the United Nations.

Dr. Raed al-Arini said the hospital used 5,000 liters a day to run two generators to power dialysis machines, incubators with 30 children, the intensive-care unit of 15 patients, and operating rooms. “It was a miracle when we got 10,000 liters yesterday,” he said. “Otherwise we would have had to shut down at noon.”

But Gaza’s oil companies refused Tuesday to deliver the diesel provided by Israel, saying that there was no fuel for them to operate their stations, which are empty. Mahmoud Khozendar, who helps run a family firm and leads the dealers’ association, said that there was also little gasoline in Gaza.