JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s state-owned electric company on Wednesday said it was continuing power cuts to several cities in the occupied West Bank to press for payment of what it said was $519 million owed by a Palestinian electricity company.
Israel Electric Corp (IEC) began daily, three-hour power cuts on Sunday, a spokeswoman said, adding that the company is “determined to collect the debt but disconnects the power in a reasonable and proportionate way”.
The cuts have led to afternoon power outages in the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, affecting an estimated 130,000 people, said Hisham Omari, who heads the Palestinians’ main electric company in the West Bank.
“When you have no electricity, there is no life. You stop life, you stop work, you feel the winter cold, for three hours,” added Omari, chairman of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO).
Palestinians in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, are largely dependent on electricity supplied by Israel.
JDECO buys electricity from IEC and then sells it to customers in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule under interim peace deals with Israel.
JDECO does not have its own power stations and relies on Israel for 95 percent of its energy supply. It buys the remainder from neighboring Jordan.
Omari said the company was “trying to take a 150 million shekels ($43.25 million) loan from a Palestinian bank to help pay off the debt.”
He added that the PA is negotiating with Israel to reschedule JDECO’s debt payments and end the power cuts.
The Palestinians have tried to reduce what they call their dependence on Israel for energy, in part through state- and private sector-funded solar energy projects and plans to build their own power plants.
Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Editing by Steve Orlofsky