Moments before the lights go out
December 26, 2013. If Kerem Shalom Crossing isn't reopened, Gaza's power plant will be shut down • Kerem Shalom Crossing has been closed since Wednesday morning • Rafah Crossing is operating, more or less.
The power plant
The power plant in the Gaza Strip may cease operating later today, after the Kerem Shalom Crossing was closed yesterday for the entry and exit of all goods, and industrial diesel did not enter the Strip.
"As of now, the closure of Kerem Shalom will continue until further notice, though we are aware that this afternoon their power station is supposed to stop working", a security official told Israeli news website Walla! (Hebrew). According to the official, "the only way they can get gas and fuel is through Kerem Shalom. Additionally, we’re weighing sending them a clear message and extending the length of the crossing's closure while their tunnels are closed".
The power plant recommenced operations only two weeks ago, on December 15th, and is currently operating only two turbines, which produce 60-65 MW. Until December 15th power cuts in the Strip lasted on average 16 hours daily, and in some instances reached 20 hours in one day. Currently, the shortages is about 12 hours per day, with power on for eight hours and then off for eight hours.
Kerem Shalom Crossing
On the instruction of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, the Kerem Shalom crossing was closed yesterday (Wednesday) until further notice. Yesterday, approximately 300 trucks, 600,000 liters of industrial diesel for the power plant, 400,000 liters of diesel for the private sector in the Strip, 200,000 liters of gasoline for the private sector and 200 tons of cooking gas were all scheduled to enter through the crossing. In addition, an estimated 16 tons of strawberries, 3 tons of cherry tomatoes and 100,000 stems of flowers were scheduled to be exported to Europe yesterday and today, as part of a project partially subsidized by the Dutch government.
The Strip requires approximately half a million liters of industrial diesel daily in order to power three turbines at the power plant. In addition, approximately 350,000 liters of diesel are required for the private sector, as well as 200,000 liters of gasoline and between 250-300 tons of cooking gas.
It's important to note that due to the storm last week, Kerem Shalom was not operating as per usual on the 12th and 15th of December, and some merchants in the Strip were unable to receive the goods they had purchased. Over the past two Fridays, however, Israel allowed for the opening of Kerem Shalom during irregular hours in order to enable the entrance of industrial diesel and cooking gas to the Strip. We are not aware of public reserves of fuel and cooking gas, such that the ongoing closure of Kerem Shalom is likely to result in shortages.
On December 10th, Israel renewed permission for the entrance of construction materials to the Strip, but only for ten projects implemented by UNRWA and UNDP. This followed almost two months during which Israel prevented the entrance of all construction materials into the Strip.
Between December 10-19, an average of 1,559 tons of gravel and cement entered the Strip daily, designated for UNRWA and UNDP. In comparison, an average of 4,035 tons entered daily in the first half of 2013 designated for international organizations. This reflects a decline of approximately 61%. Israel is still refusing to allow the private sector to purchase and transfer construction materials.
According to Palestinian sources, on Sunday (December 22, 2013) the installation of a pipeline for industrial diesel at the Kerem Shalom Crossing was completed, which had been intended to enable the transfer of fuel from Israel to the Strip. The pipeline went into operation on Monday and was also used on Tuesday.
Currently there are three pipelines at the crossing intended for the transfer of fuel: a pipeline for industrial diesel, a pipeline for diesel and a pipeline for gasoline. Between December 15-20, 3,116,374 liters of industrial diesel entered the Strip from Israel, 1.4 times the weekly amount that Israel had permitted during 2008. During that week, an average of 519,396 liters entered the Strip daily.
On Tuesday (December 24, 2013) operations at Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt were renewed, after the crossing had been closed for 11 days. The crossing is operating for entrance of Palestinians to the Strip and exit into Egypt of medical patients with official referrals for treatment in Egypt, and for holders of foreign passports and foreign residency.
On Tuesday, Egypt cited problems with the internet network as the reason for slowed operations at the crossing. Palestinian sources claim that, as of today, over 1,500 people are registered to exit via the crossing.
Since the start of December, Rafah has operated only eight days, and was closed approximately 70 per cent of the time (including Fridays). Given that access to the Strip via the sea and air are blocked and Israel significantly restricts movement through the Erez Crossing, residents of Gaza have become dependent on Rafah in order to exit the Strip.