Israel's state-owned electric company briefly cut power to two Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank on Monday to press for payment of what it said was $492 million owed by the Palestinian government.
“The Israel Electric Corporation limited for 45 minutes today the supply of electricity to five power lines in Nablus and Jenin,” the company said in a statement, adding that further cuts were possible.
Nablus Mayor Ghassan Al-Shaka'a said the power went out in parts of the city and was gradually restored.
“This is collective punishment,” he told Reuters, calling the blackouts politically motivated.
Israel Electric Corp said in a statement it had “long warned ... about a debt that has ballooned to more than 1.9 billion shekels over the years -- but no solution has been found”.
Palestinians in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, are largely dependent on electricity supplied by Israel Electric Corp.
A Palestinian power company in occupied East Jerusalem also buys electricity from IEC and sells it to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals with Israel.
Shaka'a told Reuters that Israeli power cuts would do more damage to a Palestinian economy already hit by Israel's withholding of the monthly transfer of more than $100 million in tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the PA.
Israel suspended the transfers last month after the Palestinians applied to join the International Criminal Court, where war crimes prosecutions could be pursued. The United States has expressed concern about the PA's viability if the funds remain frozen.
In previous instances in which Israel has withheld Palestinian tax revenues, some Israeli officials have proposed that some of the money be used to pay off some of the PA's electric bill.