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oPt: The time has come to stop targeting civilians

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As civilians in the Gaza Strip begin another dark week, an urgent call: The Time Has Come to Stop Targeting Civilians

Gisha: International Law forbids rocket fire on civilian targets in Israel - and it forbids deliberately depriving civilians in Gaza of vitally needed electricity.

Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008: Civilians in the Gaza Strip this morning began another week of blackouts, as Israel blocked supplies of industrial diesel to the embattled Strip for a fourth consecutive day, preventing Gaza's power plant from resuming operations. Israeli officials also announced that they would keep Gaza's overland crossings closed for a 12th consecutive day.

On Wednesday, Nov. 5, following Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip and ensuing rocket fire on civilian targets in southern Israel - Defense Minister Ehud Barak closed the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip - the only crossings through which Gaza residents are permitted to receive goods. Israel does not permit goods to enter Gaza via the Strip's airspace and territorial waters, and goods are not permitted to enter via the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

The closure has prevented supplies of industrial diesel from reaching Gaza's power plant, causing long blackouts throughout the Gaza Strip. The industrial diesel, paid for by the European Union, is used exclusively for Gaza's power plant and can only be pumped in via the Israeli controlled Nahal Oz terminal. Cooking gas, needed for the operation of Gaza's bakeries as well as for domestic use, has also not been transferred. Several residents in Gaza have told Gisha that they have already started to cook over natural fires because they have no gas to operate their cooking stoves.

Since the beginning of November - i.e. 16 days - Israel has permitted just 1,345,430 liters of industrial diesel to be pumped into Gaza - less than 20% of what the power plant needs to operate at its current capacity and just 30% of the minimal, insufficient quantities that the state promised the Israeli Supreme Court it would allow be transferred to Gaza. Since October 2007, Israel has restricted the transfer of fuel to Gaza, exhausting the reserves of industrial diesel at the power plant and rendering it vulnerable to any interruptions in supply.

The Gaza Strip needs approximately 220-240 megawatts (MW) electricity daily. One hundred twenty MW are purchased from Israel and 17 MW from Egypt, while the remaining amount is supposed to be produced by the power plant. However, because of damage from an Israeli air strike and restrictions on fuel supply since October 2007, it has been producing on average less than 65 MW. Since Thursday, the power plant has closed completely due to the fuel stoppage, depriving Gaza of 32% of its electricity source.

The remaining electricity is re-distributed throughout the Strip, subject to technical and geographical constraints. Since Thursday evening long power outages have been experienced as follows:

- Central and Northern Gaza, including Gaza City, surrounding refugee camps and Deir al Balah: rolling 8 hour power outages;

- Khan Yunis area: 4-8 hours of power outages per day;

- Rafah Area: 6 hours of power outages per day.

In response to the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip, "Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement" has called on Israel "to immediately restore the transfer of fuel to the Gaza Strip, in order to prevent further electricity blackouts and harm to the civilian population. Israel's policy of closure constitutes collective punishment, forbidden by international humanitarian law, which also prohibits the firing of rockets towards Israeli civilian areas. Both sides must refrain from harming civilians, instead of deliberately targeting them".