Gaza fuel shortage sparks energy crisis

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The Gaza Strip’s only power station has run out of fuel, sparking a fresh energy crisis and likely blackouts in the immediate future.

Turkey and Qatar donated three months worth of fuel in January but that supply has now been used  up. The fuel shortage has reignited a longstanding disagreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) about provision of fuel to the power station.

The PA receives fuel from Israel, which it in turn sells to the power station in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Stip. Hamas has asked the PA to reduce the tax it charges for the fuel, but last week PA President Mahmoud Abbas refused the request, saying that as long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza, it should be responsible for paying the electric bill at full cost.

Ghassan Khatib, professor of political science at Bir Zeit University, said: “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.” Khatib also said that “the PA says that does not make sense, that Hamas is governing Gaza while the PA is paying for Gaza”.

Fathi Sheikh Khalil, head of Hamas’s energy authority in Gaza, said that Gaza is now relying solely on supplies coming from Israel and Egypt. Israel supplies Gaza with 120 megawatts of electricity and Egypt a further 30 megawatts, leaving the Strip well short of the 400 megawatts Gaza’s energy authority claim is needed for Gaza to sustain itself.

Gazans will now have four hours of electricity per day, down from two eight-hour periods of electricity a day under normal service. Israeli and Palestinian officials estimated on Thursday that reserve generators in Gaza’s hospitals would run out of fuel within 48-72 hours, causing blackouts.

Israel has approved both a new high-voltage power line to Gaza to operate desalination plants for clean water, as well as a natural gas pipeline for electricity, but this will take several years to implement.

In a separate development, Israel has released the female cancer patient who was caught trying to smuggle explosives in medicine containers from Gaza into Israel. Ragheb Atallah, the patient’s husband, explained that “someone asked them to take a bottle of medicine on their way for a patient there” and insisted that they “did not know what is inside”. The patient’s sister, 57-year-old Ibtessam Eid, remains in Israeli custody.