The Gaza Strip’s

Po­lit­i­cal fight­ing be­tween Pales­tinian fac­tions pre­vents so­lu­tion for mil­lions who have lit­tle elec­tric­ity as the weather gets warmer

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY HAZEM BALOUSHA AND RUTH EGLASH ruth.eglash@wash­post.com

lone power sta­tion shut down be­cause it ran out of fuel, leav­ing Pales­tini­ans with lit­tle elec­tric­ity as the weather gets warmer.

gaza city — A 10-year block­ade and three wars have hard­ened the peo­ple of the Gaza Strip, but now they face a new chal­lenge: a lone power sta­tion with­out fuel.

The prob­lem means long hours with­out elec­tric­ity for the 2 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in the coastal en­clave. And the sit­u­a­tion is about to get worse as the Mid­dle East heads to­ward a typ­i­cal arid sum­mer and the Mus­lim holy month of Ramadan.

The so­lu­tion could be sim­ple: pro­vide Gazans with fuel for their sin­gle power plant. But the prob­lem is caught in the mid­dle of a power strug­gle be­tween the West Bank’s Pales­tinian Author­ity and Ha­mas, the mil­i­tant rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Un­til now, the Pales­tinian Author­ity re­ceived fuel from Is­rael and sold it to the power sta­tion in Gaza. The Pales­tinian Author­ity even re­duced the taxes.

But fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties meant other coun­tries oc­ca­sion­ally had to step in to cover the cost. In Jan­uary, af­ter pub­lic un­rest over power cuts, Qatar and Turkey do­nated three months’ worth of fuel to Gaza.

But that ar­range­ment has ended, and the Pales­tinian Author­ity has said that as long as Ha­mas re­mains in charge in Gaza, it should be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing the elec­tric­ity bill — at the full cost.

The po­lit­i­cal fight­ing be­tween the two Pales­tinian fac­tions has left Gazans to sur­vive with be­tween four and six hours of elec­tric­ity a day.

“I live on the sixth floor, and elec­tric­ity is im­por­tant for me not only inside my apart­ment but also out­side, to op­er­ate the el­e­va­tor,” said Maisa al-Masri, a 38-year-old res­i­dent of the strip. She is a mother of five and has se­vere back prob­lems.

“I have to walk up and down the stairs with my lit­tle baby when I come back from work,” she said. “Since 2006 we are suf­fer­ing, and Pales­tinian lead­er­ship in Gaza and the West Bank don’t care about us, only about their own in­ter­ests.”

Ha­mas has gov­erned Gaza since it vi­o­lently seized power from its ri­val Pales­tinian fac­tion Fatah in 2007. Since then, re­la­tions be­tween Gaza and the West Bank, which is run by the Fatah-con­trolled Pales­tinian Author­ity, have been tense.

Is­rael also views Ha­mas’s takeover of Gaza as hos­tile and has kept in place a land and sea block­ade of the strip, con­trol­ling goods and peo­ple go­ing in and out. Ha­mas, which is af­fil­i­ated with the Mus­lim Brother­hood move­ment, also has strained re­la­tions with the cur­rent Egyp­tian ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has kept its cross­ing with Gaza mostly closed in re­cent years.

Ha­mas has asked the Pales­tinian Author­ity to help by at least re­duc­ing the taxes it charges for the fuel. Pales­tinian Author­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, how­ever, last week re­fused to cut or re­move the tax un­less Ha­mas re­lin­quishes power to the Pales­tinian Author­ity.

“Ha­mas says it does not collect enough from the elec­tric­ity bills be­cause peo­ple in Gaza are poor. They be­lieve the Pales­tinian Author­ity should pay part or most of the cost,” said Ghas­san Khatib, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Bir Zeit Univer­sity near the West Bank town of Ramallah. “The PA says that does not make sense, that Ha­mas is gov­ern­ing Gaza while the PA is pay­ing for Gaza.”

The out­come of the stand­off, Khatib said, is “in­creas­ing of the suf­fer­ing of the peo­ple in Gaza. Ha­mas will never give up the lead­er­ship, and the peo­ple will suf­fer more.”

Fathi Sheikh Khalil, head of Ha­mas’s en­ergy author­ity in Gaza, said fuel taxes charged by the Pales­tinian Author­ity are un­ten­able. The taxes more than dou­ble the cost of op­er­at­ing the plant’s two tur­bines, Sheikh Khalil said.

He said Gaza is now re­ly­ing on sup­plies com­ing from Is­rael and Egypt, but it is not enough. Is­rael sup­plies about 120 megawatts of elec­tric­ity and Egypt a fur­ther 20 to 30 megawatts. But Gaza needs an es­ti­mated 400 megawatts to sus­tain it­self, ac­cord­ing to Gaza’s en­ergy author­ity. Add to that the in­sta­bil­ity in Egypt’s Si­nai Penin­sula, which of­ten causes the sup­ply line from there to stop func­tion­ing.

“The elec­tric­ity cuts will also af­fect mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices such as pump­ing wa­ter to peo­ple’s homes and waste­water treat­ment,” Sheikh Khalil said.

Gaza’s hospitals have warned that they will not be able to op­er­ate for much longer.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Is­raeli mil­i­tary author­ity re­spon­si­ble for Gaza, sent a let­ter ear­lier this month to in­ter­na­tional aid or­ga­ni­za­tions warn­ing that elec­tric­ity short­ages com­bined with wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion prob­lems could soon cre­ate an even worse hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the en­clave.

In the mean­time, Gazans have tried to find al­ter­na­tives. In the begin­ning, they re­lied on small, fuel-op­er­ated gen­er­a­tors. Then they turned to recharge­able bat­ter­ies, called in­vert­ers, for light­ing.

“I am fol­low­ing with great con­cern the tense sit­u­a­tion in Gaza, where a new en­ergy cri­sis is now un­fold­ing,” Nick­o­lay Mlade­nov, the U.N. spe­cial co­or­di­na­tor for the Mid­dle East peace process, said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day.

“The au­thor­i­ties in Gaza must en­sure that col­lec­tion rates are im­proved and that rev­enue col­lected in Gaza is re­turned to the le­git­i­mate Pales­tinian au­thor­i­ties in or­der to keep fuel and elec­tric­ity sup­ply flow­ing,” he said.

He also called on Is­rael to ease the en­try of ma­te­ri­als for re­pairs and main­te­nance of the grid and power plant, and for Egypt to re­pair and up­grade its power lines to Gaza.

“Pales­tini­ans in Gaza, who live in a pro­tracted hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, can no longer be held hostage by dis­agree­ments, di­vi­sions and clo­sures,” Mlade­nov said. Eglash re­ported from Jerusalem.

MAH­MUD HAMS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

A woman helps her son study by can­dle­light in the Khan You­nis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s only func­tion­ing power plant shut down be­cause it ran out of fuel.

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