Suspended Gaza fuel deal hits peace bid
CRIPPLING BLOCKADE: Israeli minister orders the deliveries to stop after clashes on the Gaza-israel border
RAMALLAH: By suspending badlyneeded fuel deliveries to the Gaza Strip after deadly overnight clashes, Israel has cast doubts on the viability of the hard-won measure aimed at helping the Palestinian people and easing tensions.
The deal, brokered by the United Nations and backed by the United States, Israel and others, had seen thousands of litres of Qatari-bought fuel trucked into Gaza daily to boost the impoverished territory’s electricity supply.
But only days after being brought into effect, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman late on Friday ordered the deliveries to stop after clashes on the Gaza-israel border.
Despite hopes the fuel would help ease months of deadly violence, thousands of protesters gathered again on Friday at the border fence. The Israeli army said five people were shot dead after “an organised attack” on an army post, using an explosive device which destroyed part of the fence.
The Gaza health ministry said seven Palestinians were killed.
The fuel deal had been reached without the agreement of the officially recognised Palestinian government, in what diplomats said was a first for Gaza — which is controlled by the Palestinian faction, Hamas.
And it had also raised questions on whether Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is slowly being sidelined.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Abbas has semi autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, but lost control of Gaza to Hamas in a near-civil war in 2007. But the PA has long been the only address for most international powers and a senior official declared on Thursday it would no longer work with the UN envoy who brokered the deal.
The UN and other parties say they are merely seeking to improve the desperate humanitarian situation in the strip, under a crippling Israeli blockade for a decade.
More than two thirds of Gaza’s two million residents rely on aid, while there are only four hours of mains electricity a day.
Great efforts were made to convince Abbas to agree to the fuel deal, UN and diplomatic sources said, with a decision ultimately made to work around him.
“The humanitarian imperative is more important than the relationship with the PA,” one diplomat said.
There has been criticism of the PA that it has done little to ease the suffering of Gazans over the past decade and Abbas has even taken punitive measures against the strip to squeeze Hamas.
But the Palestinian Authority fears the United States, which is due to announce a peace proposal, and others may seek to further split Gaza from the West Bank, dimming already slim hopes for a two-state solution between a Palestinian entity and Israel.
Western diplomats fear Abbas may now take new steps, or even cut off some ties with international powers.
“We could end up choosing between working with the PA and easing the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” one diplomat in Jerusalem warned.
Relatives of Palestinian Mohammed Abbas, who was killed at the Israel-gaza border fence, mourn during his funeral in Gaza City on Saturday.