Gaza power plant receiving fuel after flooding
A Palestinian man sits on the roof of his house in a flooded area of Gaza city on December 15, 2013 following heavy rain. A fierce winter storm shut down much of the Middle East the past days. [AFP]
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Israel began transferring fuel to Gaza's sole power plant on Sunday, a Palestinian official said, as the isolated enclave struggled to deal with massive flooding caused by winter downpours.
The decision to aid the fuel-starved Gaza Strip came as a Palestinian teenage boy was shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers while gathering rubble.
Raed Fatuh, a Palestinian Authority official in charge of the transfer of goods into Gaza, said Israel would be transferring 450,000 liters of fuel to the plant.
The power station rumbled to life on Sunday for the first time in more than seven weeks after receiving the long-awaited delivery, the electricity company said.
"The power station started reworking gradually after stopping for 50 days," spokesman Jamal Dirsawi told AFP.
The PA, which rules the West Bank, is involved in helping coordinate the transfer of goods into Gaza via Occupied Palestine.
The Ramallah-based government purchased the fuel from Israel with funds donated by gas-rich Gulf state Qatar.
Gaza's energy authority said it hoped the power plant, which supplies some 30 percent of the coastal enclave's electricity needs, would become operational later Sunday.
Torrential rains that began on Wednesday caused heavy flooding in the enclave, with thousands of residents evacuated from their homes and seeking refuge in schools.
An AFP correspondent said on Sunday the water level was dropping, but that many residents were still stranded.
Following a request from the United Nations, Israel on Friday allowed the transfer of gas for domestic heating and fuel pumps for draining the floodwater.
In addition to the fuel for the power plant, Gaza would also receive "800,000 liters of diesel fuel for transportation... and another 200 tons of household gas," the Israeli army said in a statement.
Fatuh said the transfer of the fuel and gas would continue on Monday and Tuesday.
Occupied Palestine, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been hard hit by the fiercest winter storm in decades, with many areas cut off by heavy snowfall, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power.
UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said that large regions of the Gaza Strip are a "disaster area" and called on the world community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed, in a statement sent to Ma'an news agency.
"Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see," the statement read. "Our sanitation, maintenance workers, social workers and medical staff have been working through the night and round the clock to assist the most vulnerable, the old, the sick, children and women."
Gunness also highlighted the need for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to allow the region recover from the current crisis.
"When all this is over, the world community needs to bring effective pressure to end the blockade of Gaza," he said.
"Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this," the statement continued.
Although the snowstorm had eased up by Sunday, conditions remained very icy, prompting schools to stay shut in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, with public transport also suspended, officials said.
Schools were also closed in Ramallah and many roads remained blocked off by snowdrifts in and around the Palestinian city, residents said.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, medics in Gaza said a 16-year-old boy who was gathering rubble near the northern border fence with Israel was moderately wounded when soldiers opened fire, hitting him in the leg.
There was no immediate comment from the army.
It was the second such shooting in 12 hours, with another Palestinian shot and wounded by troops in southern Gaza late on Saturday. An Israeli army spokeswoman claimed he had been "engaged in suspicious activity."
The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.
The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.
Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.
However, Egypt has closed many tunnels to Gaza, in a crackdown against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula since the ouster of President Mohammed Mursi by the army in July.