YAAKOV KATZ, HERB KEINON and jpost.com staff ,
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz determined that the current plan to cut off the supply of electricity and other vital services to the Gaza Strip must not be implemented until a mechanism can be worked out which would prevent "collective punishment" of the Palestinians.
The decision was taken in a meeting with Defense Ministry representatives on Monday.
That meeting came in response to a petition for an injunction against the move filed to the High Court of Justice on Sunday by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, as well as other human rights groups. Adalah claimed that it was illegal for Israel to collectively punish the 1.4 million people in Gaza.
According to a Channel 10 report, Mazuz insisted that the defense establishment first devise a system for ensuring that the move would not cause a humanitarian crisis for Palestinian civilians. One suggestion that was reportedly discussed was to warn hospitals in Gaza of impending action so as to give them time to start their generators.
Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin ordered the state to respond to the petition within five days.
Israel began scaling back its supply of fuel to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, as part of the sanctions package approved last week by Defense Minister Ehud Barak following the recent escalation in rocket attacks.
Dor Alon, the Israeli energy company that sells fuel to Gaza, confirmed it received instructions from the Defense Ministry to reduce shipments.
The fuel cut drew harsh condemnation from Palestinians in the Strip, which relies on Israel for all of its fuel and more than half of its electricity.
Defense officials said that starting Sunday Israel cut fuel supplies to Gaza by 5 percent to 12%. The main reduction was in gasoline: Instead of 450,000 liters a week, Israel will now supply 300,000; Israel will continue to supply the same amount of industrial fuel - 1.75 million liters per week - for Gaza's sole power plant; and instead of 1.4 million liters a week of diesel, Israel will now supply 1.25 million.
"This is a serious warning to the people of the Gaza Strip. Their lives are now in danger," said Ahmed Ali, deputy director of Gaza's Petroleum Authority, which distributes Israeli fuel shipments to private Palestinian companies. "The hospitals, water pumping station and sewage will now be affected by the lack of fuel."
Israeli officials said the changes would not affect hospitals, water supplies or sewage plants, and that the gasoline cuts were "marginal" but were enough to disrupt the daily lives of Palestinian civilians and cause them "to ask themselves if the Kassam rocket fire is beneficial for them or not."
Officials said that while Israel did not want to ground ambulances or garbage trucks, the defense establishment decided to reduce the diesel supply since it was also employed by Hamas for its car pool that is used daily in terrorist activity.
In a further effort to pressure Hamas, the IDF also decided to permanently shut down the Sufa crossing into Gaza, which had been used in recent months as a temporary replacement for the main Karni cargo crossing that has been closed due to increasing terrorist threats against it.
With Sufa closed, the Kerem Shalom crossing near Sinai will be the only entry point operated by the IDF for the transfer of humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip. Defense officials said Sufa was being shut in line with the new policy of increasing pressure on Hamas.
"There are daily rocket attacks against the crossing, and until now we used to switch off between Kerem Shalom and Sufa and used the one that wasn't under fire," an official said. "From now on, however, if Hamas fires at Kerem Shalom it will immediately shut down and will only reopen the next day if the firing stops."
Closing Sufa means that it will cost three times as much to transport food into Gaza as it did before Hamas took over the Strip, according to Kirstie Campbell, Gaza emergency coordinator for the World Food Program.
Since Hamas took over Gaza in June, Sufa had replaced Karni as the main crossing for goods into Gaza, at double the price, she said, and using the Kerem Shalom crossing would add another 50%.
So that what cost $25 per ton to bring through Karni, cost $50 at Sufa and would now be $75 per ton at Kerem Shalom because it was the most labor intensive of the three crossings, Campbell said.
She said the increased cost would overly tax donor support and ultimately mean less food for Gazans, of whom 80 percent, or some 1.1 million of the estimated 1.4 million people there, are dependent on food handouts from the international community.
Closing Sufa would increase the vulnerability of the food supply, she said.
Reducing fuel supplies also harms people's ability to feed themselves, since basic staples such as flour and rice needed to be cooked, she said.
The outlook for Gaza under these conditions, she said, "is very bleak."
In Geneva on Thursday, John Holmes, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said Gaza's food supply had been reduced as a result of Israeli restrictions at the crossings.
"The squeeze was tightening all the time," Holmes said. In July, the UN helped bring 3,000 trucks into Gaza, a number that dropped to 1,508 in September.
In July, he said, 40 patients a day had been allowed to cross into Israel, which had fallen to under five a day in September.
While he condemned the Gazan rocket attacks against Israel, he said stopping the supply of fuel to "punish the population of Gaza" did not appear to be an appropriate response.
Unofficially, Israeli sources are saying Israel has no responsibility to supply fuel for the vehicles that are transporting the Kassams to locations where they can be fired on Israel, nor does Israel have an obligation to supply the fuel used to build the rockets.
A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said that while it had not yet been decided when to begin suspending electricity to the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks, this new policy would also likely be implemented within the next few days.
The officials said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had not been flooded with urgent calls for Israel to rescind these measures, and that Israel had explained to the international community that the goal was not to punish residents of the Gaza Strip, but rather to protect Israeli citizens.
The issue - according to officials in the Prime Minister's Office - was not raised during a meeting Olmert held Sunday evening with a delegation from the Board of Directors of the United Nations Foundation that included former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.
The delegation also included Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and chairman of Turner Enterprises, and former Atlanta Mayor and US ambassador to the UN Andrew Young.
Olmert praised the UN for its involvement in putting together the Security Council resolution that ended last summer's war in Lebanon, and said that there has been a gradual improvement in Israeli attitudes toward the UN.
The prime minister told the delegation that Israel would be more than willing to converse with Hamas if it accepted the principles that Annan himself had laid down: recognizing Israel, rejecting terrorism and accepting previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements.
Also Sunday, Olmert briefed the cabinet on his talks on Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and said the upcoming Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, would touch on the core issues of Jerusalem, borders and refugees, but would not try to solve them.
Olmert said that the declaration that the two sides were working on to present at Annapolis would be a general declaration that would include a commitment to continue negotiations after the meeting.
"We will go to negotiations after the Annapolis meeting with the intention to solve all the problems, and which will make possible the establishment of a Palestinian state that lives in security alongside Israel, a Palestinian state that is the national home of the Palestinian people, as Israel is the national home of the Jewish people." The Annapolis declaration would not include a detailed timetable for negotiations, he said.
Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to the report.
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