Gaza's power crisis reaches new heights

28.09.2015

As if the residents of the Gaza Strip don't have enough troubles, the Palestinian enclave's already poor electricity service has got worse. The people are blaming their leaders, and the leaders are blaming each other. But blame game still doesn't turn on the lights.

For years, like all Gazans, Mohamed al-Jabali has lived on limited daily rations of electricity, but now he says he is "sick and fed up." Since September 10, Gaza's electricity crisis has become so bad that it sparked rare protests against the Hamas authorities last week, protests that were harshly put down.

"Normally," Gazans live on power rations of up to 16 hours a day, meaning they have to get by without electricity for eight hours. Last week, that ratio was reversed at best. Many reported power for well under eight hours, living the rest of the time in complete blackout.

Many blame the feud between the Islamist Hamas movement – in de facto control of the Gaza Strip – and the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah movement. Both movements blame the other, but regular Gazans pay the price in any case.

The Jabali family's daily routine in eastern Gaza City's al-Tuffah neighbourhood has become a torment, says Mohamed. "We wait for the power until after midnight for a shower or wash our clothes and dishes," says al-Jabali.

Israel's border crossings with Gaza were closed for several days for the Jewish New Year (14-15 September), briefly worsening the fuel shortage. In addition, three power lines from Egypt which normally supply much of the southern Gaza Strip have malfunctioned.

But the Gaza-based al-Mezan rights group cites "the absence of internal Palestinian unity" as the more structural reason. The crisis has been going on since Hamas violently seized sole control of the enclave in 2007 from the Fatah-dominated security forces. Since then, two separate energy authorities have existed, one in Gaza headed by Hamas and another in Ramallah led by the PA. Even after the Gaza takeover, the PA has continued sending fuel for Gaza's sole power plant five days a week, but Hamas accuses them of trying to stoke unrest by not sending enough.

That seems to be what happened last week. In what was seen as one of the largest ever protests against Hamas, hundreds of angry Gazans took to the streets, chanting against the Hamas-run Energy Corporation and burning cars tires until they were forcibly dispersed by Hamas-run police. Some Hamas officials also accuse Abbas of cooperating with Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi to "squeeze" Hamas in Gaza. Al-Sisi's anti-Islamist government and Hamas – the Palestinian arm of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood – are not on good terms.

Qatar has bought 30 million litres of fuel for Gaza's power plant, but, citing the security situation in the Sinai, Egypt has allowed only some of it through. Egypt recently agreed to facilitate the transfer of another 10 million litres, but these transfers have been irregular, says Gisha, an NGO monitoring the transfer of goods through Gaza's border crossings. Since the transfers began on 4 August, only 1.3 million litres of fuel had passed through the Egypt-Gaza border as of 6 September, it says.

The government of West Bank-based Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah denies the accusations of using fuel to undermine Hamas, saying that while the PA continues to transfer fuel for Gaza's power station to the Strip, Hamas is not distributing the power correctly to the people. "We are not responsible for the electricity crisis in Gaza. It is the responsibility of those who deliver the power to the populations and decide the time schedule for the power delivery," it said in a statement. In fact, some Gazans wonder whether the sharp reduction in electricity is a Hamas ploy to get more funding from sympathetic Arab states. The acute shortage came just as a top Qatari diplomat, Mohamed al-Ammadi, who heads a Qatari-Palestinian committee to reconstruct Gaza, visited the coastal enclave.

After he left for the West Bank on Thursday, daily power soon began increasing again. "They cut the power when al-Ammadi comes in order to beg him for more money," wrote one Facebook user from Gaza.

But whatever the real reasons, the ever recurring and ongoing electricity shortages, on top of poverty and unemployment, make "the situation in the Gaza Strip unbearable," said Talal Oukal, a Gaza-based political analyst.

"If the situation here is not immediately resolved, I think Gaza will explode in the face of everyone."    (dpa)

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