Israel's state-run electricity company Thursday reduced the power supply to a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank, blaming a debt of $450 million, said officials. "The Israel Electric Corporation reduced the power supply to a third of its capacity in the Jericho governorate," the director of the private Palestinian Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO), Hisham Omari, told AFP.
An Israeli energy industry official said the measure came after the failure by the Palestinian Authority and JDECO to pay longstanding dues, currently amounting to more than 1.7 billion Israeli shekels ($450 million). "We've informed all the relevant parties, and after endless attempts to reach arrangements, we've decided to act to reduce the debt," said the Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity and adding that the Jericho move was "open-ended."
Omari called the power reduction "collective punishment against the Palestinian people" which would disrupt daily lives and stop factories which operate in the area. He said that ongoing talks with the IEC and PA had failed to resolve the debt problem. Omari said he sent a letter to the Palestinian prime minister's office to "immediately intervene to stop this measure."
The Palestinian Authority has struggled financially and is largely dependent on foreign aid. The Palestinian economy has faltered in part due to Israeli restrictions in much of the West Bank.
In January 2015, the IEC cut power to Palestinian cities for a number of hours every day, over a similar debt. It ceased doing so the following month, despite the remaining debt. The Israeli finance ministry and prime minister's office, which would normally be involved in any decision to reduce the electricity to the Palestinians, did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment. Palestinian officials would not immediately comment.
Tensions are running high, after six months of violence which has left 200 Palestinians and 28 Israelis dead. Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, while Israeli forces have been accused of using excessive force in some cases, charges which they have firmly denied.