Egypt, Hamas spar over Gaza electricity crisis

Hamas officials accuse Egypt of "political extortion" because of insistence on supplying fuel to Gaza Strip through Israel.

Electricity lines 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Electricity lines 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Hamas and Egypt traded allegations Sunday over which party was responsible for the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The crisis began a few weeks ago when Egypt cut off fuel supplies for electricity production in Gaza, shutting down the only power plant and forcing daily 18- hour blackouts. The situation has also resulted in a severe shortage of gas for cooking and heating, forcing Palestinians to rely on wood fires as an alternative.
Hamas officials accused Egypt of “political extortion” due to the latter’s insistence on supplying fuel to the Gaza Strip through Israel. Until recently, fuel had been smuggled into Gaza from Egypt through underground tunnels.
Under a deal recently reached between the two sides, the Hamas government was supposed to purchase fuel from Egypt. Last month, however, it announced it had paid Egypt $2 million but that the Egyptians were not fulfilling their promise to resume supplies.
According to the agreement, the Gaza Strip’s electricity grid would be connected to Egypt and the Palestinian power station would start using gas instead of diesel fuel.
Yusef Rizka, political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, accused Egypt of using the fuel crisis for “political extortion.” He said that Egypt’s insistence of supplying fuel to the Gaza Strip only through Israel was designed to “force Hamas to succumb,” and called the Egyptian demand “illegal and arbitrary.”
Egypt’s General Intelligence Service was playing a major role in creating the crisis, he charged, adding that Cairo’s refusal to supply fuel despite having received the $2m. down payment “raises many questions” as to the Egyptians’ true intentions.
Mohammed Asqoul, secretary-general of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, openly blamed the Egyptian intelligence service of being behind the electricity crisis. He said the Egyptian demand to supply fuel through Israel was “completely unacceptable” to Palestinians for political, technical and administrative reasons.
Asqoul called on the Egyptian government and parliament to put pressure on the country’s intelligence service to allow the fuel supplies into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, where there is no Israeli presence.
In response to the Hamas allegations, a spokesman for the Egyptian government said Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were not naive and knew that the Hamas government was responsible for the electricity crisis. He said that although Egypt was suffering from its own shortage of fuel supplies, it nevertheless was working to help solve the crisis in the Gaza Strip by upgrading and rehabilitating the Palestinian power plant.
The spokesman called on Hamas to stop exploiting the crisis and suffering of Palestinians, and to protect them from “mafias” that were involved in smuggling fuel through underground tunnels, a fact that, he added, had led to a rise in the price of diesel fuel.