EU to resume aid for Gaza electricity

Hamas denies skimming money, says the allegations were cooked up by Abbas.

powerout gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
powerout gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The European Union's pledge to resume fuel payments for the Gaza power plant on Wednesday is a welcome relief for the 600,000 Palestinians in Gaza who have spent five hot summer days without electricity. For the last three days, the EU had suspended the payments on suspicion that electricity revenues could go to Hamas. But Gazans have been in the dark since Friday when the plant ran out of fuel. On Tuesday, the EU decided to resume fuel payments while it investigated the matter through an audit and on-the-ground inspections of the matter in Gaza, according to Mario Mariani, who heads the EU's Temporary International Mechanism (TIM). The program pays the Gaza Generating Company's fuel bill and provides financial support for the Palestinians in Gaza as long as the money is not going to Hamas. "We look forward to a rapid conclusion of the investigation," Mariani told The Jerusalem Post. He said he hoped the investigation could be wrapped up within days. Palestinian Information Minister Riad Malki said the EU had made it clear that "if they find any money transferred from the company to the Hamas government, they will stop supplying Gaza with fuel within hours." An aide to Haniyeh, Mohammed Madhoun, welcomed the resumption of fuel deliveries, but objected to the Abbas government's oversight of the power plant. "A committee for monitoring and scrutinizing is a professional step and welcomed in principle, but this has to be done by the EU alone or... in cooperation with the government in Gaza," Madhoun said. Hamas denied skimming money, saying the allegations were cooked up by Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's rival government in the West Bank in an effort to discredit it. The fuel cutoff confronted the Hamas with a major crisis just two months after it seized control of the Strip, vanquishing Fatah forces loyal to Abbas. While the plant provides only 25 percent of Gaza's electricity, with Israel supplying 70% and Egypt 5%, the shutdown has impacted 600,000 domestic users who are on the plant's power grid. The remaining 800 users also experienced intermittent outages. On Tuesday, Gaza residents welcomed the news that power would soon be restored. For some in Gaza, the electricity outages have meant a lack of water. In other cases, there was no hot water and no air conditioning. Now that the immediate crisis appears to be over, Ging said he hoped the EU would help the plant stock up on reserve supplies, so that Gaza is not plunged into a crisis again should there be interruptions in fuel payments or deliveries. In the absence of electricity, shops in Gaza City's main market set up noisy, smoke-spewing generators in the streets to run their lights. Families ran to the grocery stores every few hours to buy food because they could not keep it refrigerated at home. And streets were jammed with cars and irritable motorists because traffic lights were out. In Gaza City, Fayrouz Abdel Hamid, 25, said she was glad that the "days of suffering" would end. "The electricity cutoff affected our work life and our social life. It will be a big achievement if electricity is restored," she said. Israeli and Egyptian utilities stepped up production to alleviate the outages. But even with these stopgap measures, Gazans in affected areas were living without power about 20 hours a day. At a falafel stand in downtown Gaza City on Tuesday, people waiting in line covered their noses with their hands to avoid the fumes of the gas generators and the stench from a pile of garbage that had been mounting for nine days due to a strike by unpaid municipal workers. "I stepped out of work to get some fresh air, but I smell only exhaust from the generators and burnt garbage," said a mother of five who would only give her name as Nawal. "Then I go home to live in darkness. So 24 hours a day I can't avoid the noise and the misery of the dirty pollution of Gaza." AP contributed to this report.