Israel halves Gaza fuel supply and orders new settlements after attacks

It comes in response to rockets fired into Israel and a bomb blast outside an illegal West Bank settlement

epa07788799 A Palestinian protester waves a Palestinian flag next to Israeli troops near the border between Israel and eastern Gaza Strip, 23 August 2019.  EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday cut fuel transfers to Gaza in half and advanced plans for new settlement homes in the West Bank.

He told the military to slash fuel transfers to the enclave by 50 per cent after three rockets were fired from the coastal enclave on Sunday, raising tension on Israel’s southern border where weekly Palestinian protests have been staged since March 2018.

The Israeli prime minister also ordered his staff to prepare plans for building a new neighbourhood in the occupied West Bank settlement where a 17-year-old girl was killed in a bomb blast last week. Israel blamed the Palestinians for the attack and launched a manhunt to find the perpetrators.

The cuts to Gaza’s fuel supply will deepen the electricity crisis in the territory impoverished by a 12-year Israeli economic siege that the United Nations says has left it practically unlivable.

The new settlement plans will also add to Palestinian anger at an enterprise they say Israel continues to expand to prevent any hope of a sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state.

The Gaza cuts will take effect immediately and come after Israeli air strikes on Hamas positions.

The rocket attacks have threatened to unleash another round of fighting along the volatile Gaza-Israel border after a relative lull.

Israel accused the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group of orchestrating the attacks as part of Iran’s region-wide campaign of chaos.

Regarding the settlement decision in the occupied West Bank, Mr Netanyahu’s office said that plans for the new neighbourhood in Dolev settlement would be submitted at the next meeting of planning authorities. It will include “approximately 300 new residential housing units”.

Israel’s hard-right government regularly orders new settlement units, and increases the number in response to Palestinian attacks in the occupied territory.

Recent attacks involved stabbings, shootings and rammings with cars.

About 400,000 settlers already live in the occupied West Bank and another 250,000 reside in occupied East Jerusalem.

“We will deepen our roots and strike at our enemies,” Mr Netanyahu said. “We will continue to strengthen and develop settlements.”

Dolev is a small settlement north-west of Jerusalem and, if approved, the new housing plans would herald a significant increase in its population.

Most of the world considers settlements to be illegal and Mr Netanyahu is typically careful in announcing such plans.

But the prime minister retains widespread support among Israel’s far right for his pro-settlement policies and anti-Palestinian views.

The new announcements are widely viewed as tactics intended to improve his chances at the polls in the September 17 election.

Gaza has long suffered from a shortage of electricity. A new power line from Israel has been proposed to alleviate the situation.

Mohammad Thabet, spokesman for the Gaza power company, described the Israeli decision as collective punishment.

“We are already in a crisis and now the Israeli decision will make it worse,” Mr Thabet told Reuters.

“It will have a grave impact on the lives of two million people and on vital services, such as hospitals.”

Gaza residents usually have six hours of electricity supply, followed by 12 hours with no power.

Mr Thabet said the fuel cuts would shorten the six-hour periods to four hours.

In a series of border confrontations in recent weeks, Israel said it killed at least eight Palestinian militants who tried to infiltrate its territory.

Israeli and Egyptian blockades have brought the Gazan economy to the brink of collapse. Recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the West Bank, have also worsened the situation.