Court halts Gaza electricity cuts but fuel reductions stay

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The Independent Online

Israel's Supreme Court has intervened to stop the military from beginning phased cuts in electricity supply to Gaza from tomorrow, while allowing reductions in fuel to continue.

The court ordered the military yesterday to prove its claim strongly contested by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups that the electricity cuts could be implemented without harming vital systems such as hospitals, water and sewerage. Gisha, one of the Israeli groups which had petitioned the court, said the decision would mean a delay of at least three weeks and it was optimistic that the court would ultimately ban electricity cuts as illegal.

The petitioners argued that that any intentional disruption of humanitarian services such as water and medical care was forbidden by international law and rejected the state's claim that services could be disrupted while preserving a "humanitarian minimum".

Maher Najjar, deputy director of Gaza's coastal waters municipalities utility, which joined the petition, told the judges that the fuel cuts, which started on 28 October, had already interrupted water supply to tens of thousands of residents.

The cuts policy was agreed by the Israeli cabinet in the wake of its decision in September to declare Gaza a "hostile entity" because of Hamas's enforced takeover of control in June and the continued firing of Qassam rockets. The productive economy of Gaza has all but collapsed because of the closure of the Karni crossing in June.

The petitioners say the cuts are "collective punishment". But David Baker, a government spokesman, said the policy was a "non-lethal means" for Israel to send a message to those responsible for rocket fire.

Kenneth Mann, Gisha's legal adviser, welcomed the decision on electricity but said the agency was "extremely concerned" about the fuel cuts.