Palestinians walk on a road during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Concerns in the IDF are mounting that masses of Gazans will converge on the border fence with Israel if a threat by the Palestinian Authority to stop paying for Hamas’s use of electricity goes into effect next week.
The supply of fuel for the Strip has been a source of dispute between the PA and Hamas since the latter seized control of the Strip in a bloody coup in 2007. But despite the violent takeover from Fatah, Abbas’s government in Ramallah has until recently paid the bills for Gaza’s water and electricity as well as the salaries of thousands of civil servants (Fatah supporters who have not been working since the coup).
“In a few days there will be no electricity in Gaza. They [Hamas] have a dilemma for the first time whether to their use money for tunnels or electricity. They have always received electricity until now, but now they will have to decide what they prefer,” a senior IDF officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told journalists. He was referring to the terrorist organization choosing between “military” priorities, such as building attack tunnels, and civilian needs, such as electricity.
According to the officer, internal issues between Hamas and Fatah and the fuel crisis in Gaza – which is already in dire straits with a failed economy and lack of infrastructure – could lead Hamas to clash with Israel.
Gaza’s sole power plant, near the Nuseirat refugee camp, shut down last week after fuel supplied by Qatar and Turkey ran out, reducing power supply to the 1.9 million residents of the Strip to just six hours of electricity followed by 12-hour blackouts.
Israel considers Gaza its most explosive front, and infiltrations from the Strip occur on a regular basis. With fuel and potable water running low and high levels of unemployment, senior IDF officials have warned that the potential for escalation with Hamas is extremely high.
The PA and Hamas have traded blame for the fuel crisis. The PA claims that Hamas officials are not running the plant efficiently and Hamas says it cannot afford to buy more fuel and operate the plant because of the high taxes imposed by the PA, accusing the PA and Rami Hamdallah, its prime minister, of attempting to “ignite an electricity crisis in Gaza.”
The Gaza Health Ministry said it had been forced to reduce health services following the shutdown of the power plant, as it was “entering a tough phase due to the electricity crises and lack of fuel in hospitals and medical centers.”
Meanwhile, Gaza’s water utility company warned that it does not have enough fuel to run water and sanitation facilities when the power is off, creating an even more urgent humanitarian situation.
And unemployment is sky high. According to data from the World Bank, there was 42% rate of unemployment in Gaza for 2016, with a “particularly worrying” rate among youth of 58%. Those who are lucky enough to find work receive monthly salaries that are just over $400.
Nearly 80% of Gazans receive some form of aid.
In the beginning of April, the PA cut the pay of its Gaza employees by 30%, in an attempt to exert pressure on Hamas to cede power in the enclave to authority.
According to Hamdallah, if that happens, the PA will pay the full back salaries. According to Palestinian sources, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to stop paying all of Hamas’s bills, a move that would make a desperate situation even worse.
And as the PA and Hamas continue to blame each other for the fuel crisis, the humanitarian situation in the Strip continues to inch closer and closer to the boiling point.
Hamas has provoked confrontation with Israel in the past to distract attention from internal problems, and according to another senior IDF officer, while there is sporadic rocket fire on Israel carried out by small Salafi groups challenging Hamas’s rule, it is surprising that no large-scale “classic terrorist attacks” have been attempted by Hamas of late.
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