ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Gas stations throughout the West Bank have closed. That's after the Israeli supplier of gasoline to the Palestinian Authority cut off deliveries, citing an unpaid bill of some $80 million. Palestinian leaders warn of an economic catastrophe unless gas starts being delivered again soon.
NPR's Linda Gradstein was in Ramallah today on the West Bank and she filed this report.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Downtown Ramallah is usually wall-to-wall cars and taxis on Thursday afternoons at the end of the Palestinian work week. But today the traffic flowed easily and many streets were almost empty. At this Suisse gas station on the main road to Jerusalem, a hand-lettered sign on the pump reads, we apologize to our customers but we have no gas to sell. Every minute or two customers drove into the station looking for gas, only to be turned away.
Abdul Rahman al-Turk, a professor of Political Science at an An-Najah University in Nablus says he has half a tank of gas left, enough for one round trip from Ramallah to Nablus. After that he's not sure how he'll get back and forth to work.
ABDUL RAHMAN AL: In university we have final exams, you know, for this semester. So, if I cannot arrive to my university it will be a problem for my students.
GRADSTEIN: Behind him in the car wash line next to the gas station is Nahala Ziyade. She lives on the border between Ramallah and Jerusalem and drives her four children to and from school each day. She says she came hoping that the gas station would be open.
NAHALA ZIYADE: I have a little girls in my car and they are — I don't know where can I fill it. I don't know. And all our family the same problem. When the gas finished I stay at the home.
GRADSTEIN: Mujahed Salameh, the Director General of the Palestinian Petroleum Agency, says the government does not have fuel reserves. He says the Palestinian Authority owes the Israeli company Dor Alon $80 million. But he thinks the company would resume supplies if the PA paid $25 million of that total. Palestinian officials say that money could come from the tax and customs revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Israel has refused to transfer that money since the new Hamas government was established. Nizar Jaber, the head of the Gas Station Owners Syndicate in Ramallah, says the West Bank is on the brink of an economic catastrophe.
NIZAR JABER: (Through Translator) Certainly it will affect the Palestinian economy on all tracks. Every day there is increase of the unemployment, and as you know the gas is the backbone of the Palestinian economy.
GRADSTEIN: Most Palestinians blame Israel for the crisis. Abdul Rahman al-Turk, the political science professor, asserts that Israel cut off the gas supplies because it is angry that the Palestinians chose Hamas in a free and democratic election.
RAHMAN AL: Well I think Israel will use the arrival of Hamas government as the reason for them to make more and more punishment for Palestinians.
GRADSTEIN: But he says Israel's hope that the Palestinians will oust Hamas is futile. He says the growing humanitarian crisis is increasing Palestinians' anger at Israel and strengthening support for Hamas.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News.
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