Israel reduces power supply to Gaza
Hamas warns of renewed violence
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.
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.