Is­rael re­duces power sup­ply to Gaza

Ha­mas warns of re­newed vi­o­lence

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, June 19, (Agen­cies): Is­rael’s na­tional elec­tric com­pany on Mon­day cut back its al­ready lim­ited elec­tric­ity ship­ments to the Gaza Strip, a step that is ex­pected to worsen the power crunch plagu­ing the Ha­mas-con­trolled sea­side ter­ri­tory.

The com­pany con­firmed the Is­raeli govern­ment in­structed it to re­duce sup­ply to Gaza at the re­quest of the Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas’ govern­ment in the West Bank.

Ab­bas re­cently told Is­rael he would cut pay­ments for Gaza’s elec­tric­ity. Ha­mas seized Gaza from Ab­bas’ forces a decade ago, and the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Pales­tinian leader is try­ing to step up pres­sure on the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group to cede power.

With Gaza’s small power plant out of com­mis­sion, and Is­rael pro­vid­ing a frac­tion of what the ter­ri­tory needs, res­i­dents have been scrap­ing by with about four hours of elec­tric­ity a day.

Mo­hammed Tha­bet of the Gaza elec­tric­ity dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany said Gaza’s roughly 2 mil­lion res­i­dents could ex­pect to re­ceive even less power. “There is noth­ing ... that we can do,” he said.

Tha­bet said Gaza was re­ceiv­ing 112 megawatts of power a day, down from the pre­vi­ous level of 120 megawatts daily Gaza needs about 400 megawatts to meet its daily needs. Is­rael and Ha­mas are bit­ter en­e­mies that have fought three wars over the past decade.

But Is­rael has con­tin­ued to pro­vide lim­ited power to Gaza, paid for by the Pales­tini­ans, to pre­vent a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis on its doorstep and out of con­cern that more in­sta­bil­ity could lead to re­newed fight­ing. Last week, Ha­mas warned of re­newed vi­o­lence against Is­rael if power is cut.

Is­rael has de­scribed Gaza’s power cri­sis as an in­ter­nal Pales­tinian is­sue, say­ing it is merely a sup­plier.

In a state­ment, the elec­tric com­pany con­firmed it had be­gun to re­duce sup­plies on Mon­day and said ship­ments would be scaled back grad­u­ally, “so that the elec­tric­ity sup­ply will match the fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment.”

“The in­ter­nal de­liv­er­ies of elec­tric­ity to con­sumers in­side the Gaza Strip is not the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the elec­tric com­pany and is done by in­ter­nal Pales­tinian au­thor­i­ties in the Gaza Strip,” it said. Is­rael ac­cuses Ha­mas of di­vert­ing Gaza’s lim­ited elec­tric­ity for mil­i­tary use and wors­en­ing the hard­ship on its peo­ple.

Is­rael and Egypt have main­tained a block­ade on Gaza since the Ha­mas takeover in June 2007, re­strict­ing the move­ment of peo­ple and goods in and out of the ter­ri­tory. Is­rael says the re­stric­tions are needed to pre­vent Ha­mas from smug­gling weapons.

Ab­bas has grown in­creas­ingly frus­trated with re­peated fail­ures in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion talks with Ha­mas and the group’s re­fusal to cede con­trol of Gaza. In re­cent months, he has stepped up fi­nan­cial pres­sure on Ha­mas.

Re­in­stated

In April, he re­in­stated taxes on fuel bound for Gaza’s only power plant, mak­ing Ha­mas un­able to af­ford it. As a re­sult, the small sta­tion has stopped work­ing. Gaza now re­ceives its only elec­tric­ity from Is­rael, and a small quan­tity from Egypt.

Ab­bas has also cut the salaries of tens of thou­sands of for­mer em­ploy­ees in Gaza, hurt­ing the ter­ri­tory’s al­ready poor econ­omy.

Gaza au­thor­i­ties have warned of im­pend­ing health and en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis be­cause of the power short­ages. Each day, 120,000 cu­bic meters (31 mil­lion gal­lons) of un­treated sewage are dis­charged into the Mediter­ranean Sea.

Mean­while, ha­mas played down on Sun­day the pos­si­bil­ity that the en­ergy cri­sis in the Gaza Strip would lead to re­newed hos­til­i­ties with Is­rael and said relations be­tween the Is­lamist group and Egypt were im­prov­ing.

“We in Ha­mas do not ini­ti­ate wars and we do not ex­pect one, this is our po­lit­i­cal as­sess­ment,” Khalil al-Hayya, Ha­mas’s deputy leader in the Gaza Strip, told re­porters in Gaza. The two ad­ver­saries have fought three wars, most re­cently in 2014.

“We do not ex­pect war be­cause we are not in­ter­ested and the oc­cu­pa­tion also say they are not in­ter­ested,” he said, us­ing the group’s term for Is­rael.

Ten­sions over power sup­plies in re­cent weeks have led to spec­u­la­tion there could be a new con­flict be­tween the two sides.

Is­rael said last week it would re­duce elec­tric­ity sup­plies to the Gaza Strip af­ter the Pales­tinian Author­ity (PA), which is press­ing Ha­mas to re­lin­quish con­trol of the en­clave seized in 2007, lim­ited how much it pays for power to the area.

The de­ci­sion was ex­pected to shorten by 45 min­utes the daily av­er­age of four hours of power that Gaza’s 2 mil­lion res­i­dents re­ceive from an elec­tric­ity grid de­pen­dent on Is­raeli sup­plies, the of­fi­cials said. The West Bank-based Pales­tinian Author­ity blamed Ha­mas’s fail­ure to re­im­burse it for elec­tric­ity for the re­duc­tion in power sup­plies.

Sep­a­rately, a Pales­tinian of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said on Sun­day that Cairo had agreed in talks last week with a Ha­mas del­e­ga­tion to sell the group fuel to get the Gaza Strip’s sole power sta­tion back on­line.

Fuel for the small plant ran out two months ago, and a re­sump­tion of op­er­a­tions could give Gazans power for eight hours a day.

There was no im­me­di­ate word from Egyp­tian of­fi­cials on whether a deal had been struck, and Hayya de­clined to con­firm any agree­ment.

He said Ha­mas’s newly elected Gaza leader, Ye­hya al-Sin­war, had met in Cairo with Egyp­tian of­fi­cials and dis­cussed se­cur­ing the fron­tier with Egypt’s Si­nai penin­sula, where Is­lamist State fight­ers have killed hun­dreds of po­lice­men and sol­diers.

Egypt has ac­cused Ha­mas of aid­ing the mil­i­tants, an al­le­ga­tion the group de­nies, and has kept its bor­der cross­ing with the Gaza Strip largely closed. Is­rael also main­tains tight re­stric­tions along its fron­tier with the en­clave.

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