Palestinians walk on a road during a power cut in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Gaza’s sole power plant could be forced to shut down as early as Sunday due to a lack of funds needed to buy the fuel to produce electricity.
Such a move could leave Gazans with four hours or less per day of electrical power and add to the ongoing shortage of potable water.
Under normal circumstances, the two million residents of Gaza get their power on alternating cycles of eight-hours each. Generators provide electricity to those who can afford it in off-cycle times.
The plant's closure could also compromise the Gaza desalination plant, which produces clean and potable water. Some 96% of Gazan water is undrinkable.
In an unusual move, Israel this week briefly opened Kerem Shalom, its only commercial crossing to Gaza, used to transfer goods, including fuel, into the Strip. The crossing typically closes during Passover.
“In order to help the residents’ distress, it was decided to open the crossing as an exception in order to allow fuel entry to the Gaza Strip,” the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said.
“A total of 560,000 liters [of fuel oil]were delivered to Gaza yesterday, which will last until Saturday, on the assumption that it is being used for one turbine (up to 30 megawatts).
According to the deputy head of the PA Energy Authority, they do not have enough money to order fuel at the full price, and therefore they intend to stop the production of electricity on Saturday,” COGAT said.
A similar crisis threatened the power plant during the winter, but 15 million liters of fuel donated by Turkey and $12 million from Qatar at the time prevented it.
The PA allowed the Turkish and Qatari gifts to enter the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip tax-free. But now that those donations have ended, Gaza’s Energy Authority fears the PA will next week start to heavily tax fuel for the plant.
The Gaza Energy Authority said on its website, “Fuel taxes have not been canceled by the government, [the PA] so the power plant will stop working on Sunday morning. The power plant is prepared to purchase tax-free fuel to guarantee its operation.”
It added, “Tax on fuel is the primary reason for the current crisis. The power authority calls on all concerned parties to import fuel without taxes immediately as soon as possible to prevent Gaza from entering a new electricity crisis.”
PA spokesman Tarik Rishmawi said Gaza’s electrical problems are a direct result of Hamas’s continued control of the area.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it ousted the PA in a bloody coup.
Rishmawi said that Hamas has also failed to transfer fees and taxes on the electricity that it owes the PA. “The PA will do everything in its power to resolve the electricity crisis,” Rishmawi said, but did not address the issue of high fuel taxes.
Demand for power in Gaza is about 450 to 500 megawatts of power per day, but it often gets less than half of that. About 27 MW are imported from Egypt and 125 MW from Israel.
The plant can generate 110 MW operating at full capacity Israel runs 10 electrical lines and coordinates the amount of fuel entering Gaza based largely on the amount requested by the Palestinian Authority, said COGAT.
“Unfortunately,” it added, “internal Palestinian arguments prevent a long-term solution for the benefit of the Palestinian residents.”
Adam Rasgon and Reuters contributed to this report.