Freed Palestinian prisoner Mohammed al-Bashiti, who served 12 years in an Israeli jail after he was convicted of being a member of Hamas’s armed wing, gestures as he holds a weapon in a pickup truck with Hamas militants upon his release, in the southern Gaza Strip, last year.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas warned of an “explosion” in the Gaza Strip after Israel’s security cabinet decided on Sunday to cut the amount of electricity the country provides to Gaza by 40%.
Last month, the Palestinian Authority told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million of the NIS 40m. monthly bill for 125 megawatts.
Late Sunday night, Israel ceded to that request, according to security sources.
“The Israeli occupation’s decision to reduce electricity to the strip at the behest of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is catastrophic and dangerous,” Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanou said in an official statement.
Gaza power crisis
“It will hasten the deterioration of the situation and its explosion in the Strip.”
The 2 million people in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will now have only two to three hours of power a day, down from the four hours of electricity they have lived on since April.
The drop in electricity is part of the PA’s push to pressure Hamas to rescind its control of Gaza. Hamas has ruled the coastal strip since it ousted Fatah in a bloody coup in 2007.
Security sources said that for the last few months, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen Yoav Mordechai unsuccessfully turned to the international community, both organizations and governments, in an effort to raise funds for covering the Gaza energy bill.
A security source said that the civilian impact of the cabinet’s decision would be a drop of about 45 minutes of electricity a day, if Hamas didn’t divert the power for non-civilian use, such as to build tunnels to attack Israel.
Speaking about the cabinet decision in the Knesset on Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman blamed Hamas for the crisis, saying it had spent tax money on the tunnels, rather than developing the Strip.
For the first time, Gaza residents realize that the current crisis has no connection to Israel and that their money has been stolen from them, Liberman said.
It’s between Fatah and Hamas, and their leaders, PA’s Abbas and the head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said Liberman as he addressed a Gaza caucus meeting.
Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid spoke against the security cabinet’s decision.
“I don’t think anyone is worried that Gaza will turn into the Garden of Eden if it has running water and more than six hours of electricity a day,” Lapid said.
There should be a way to target Hamas without harming the civilians in Gaza, he added.
He warned that bacteria and disease knew no boundaries and that if an epidemic would break out in Gaza as a result of the absence of electricity, it would quickly make its way to Israel.
Prior to the acute electricity crisis, which is now expected to worsen, Gaza residents subsisted on about 12 hours of power a day.
In April, the PA imposed an onerous tax on the diesel fuel needed to operate the Gaza power plant.
The plant, which had provided between 90-120 MW, shut down because it could not afford the tax, which doubled the price of operating the plant.
This left Israel, which provides Gaza with 125 MW, as Gaza’s sole provider of electricity.
Egypt provides 27 MW, but its three electricity lines are rarely operational.
Hamas has said it would purchase fuel only if the PA waives the sizable taxes levied on it. For its part, the PA has said that the taxes are an important source of revenue.
The UN and left-wing NGOs have warned of a humanitarian crisis if the electricity shortage worsens or is prolonged.
The absence of electricity means that water cannot be purified for drinking, untreated sewage spills into the sea and life-saving health services are not available.
On Sunday, the NGO Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, wrote a letter to Liberman urging him not to further reduce power.
“The diminished supply of electricity has serious and far-reaching implications: 100 million liters of untreated sewage are pumped into the Mediterranean Sea daily,” Gisha wrote.
“Water desalination stations cannot operate; sewage cannot be pumped away from residential areas; generators are overextended; entire hospital wings are shut down during blackouts, and people who rely on life-saving equipment are at risk,” Gisha explained.
The UN has made similar remarks but has not offered an alternative.
Adam Rasgon and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.