Gaza Palestinian sets himself on fire as tension grips Hamas-run enclave
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Gaza Palestinian sets himself on fire as tension grips Hamas-run enclave

Motivation for suicide attempt unknown, but comes as Strip's Islamic terrorist rulers face fierce dissent over severe energy crisis

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on January 12, 2017.  (AFP  / MOHAMMED ABED)
Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on January 12, 2017. (AFP / MOHAMMED ABED)

Amid tense relations between residents and the Hamas terrorist rulers of the Gaza Strip over an energy crisis, a 20-year-old man from the enclave doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire on Monday, Palestinian media outlets reported.

The incident occurred in front of the headquarters of the charity Society of Physically Handicapped People in the al-Bureij refugee camp, located in the center of the Strip.

The man who self-immolated, named in reports as Islam al-Maqusi, was hospitalized with moderate injuries, Hamas’s police spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Ayman Al-Batniji, told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

The motivation for the suicide attempt was not immediately clear. Gaza has seen a handful of self-immolation cases since 2012, reportedly motivated by economic hardship.

Palestinians warm themselves around a fire during a winter storm, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on December 1, 2016. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians warm themselves around a fire during a winter storm, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on December 1, 2016. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Maqusi’s self-immolation transpired as tensions in the Palestinian coastal enclave reached fever pitch over the worst electricity shortage in years, with power supplied to households only three to four hours a day.

The energy crisis has engendered rare dissent in the Strip, which has been ruled by the hardline Islamist terror group Hamas since 2007.

In recent weeks, Gaza residents have staged spontaneous demonstrations, including a demonstration Thursday night that saw thousands of Palestinians streaming through the streets of Jabaliya, in the northern part of the Strip, demanding more electricity. Hamas cracked down on the dissent, arresting protesters and targeting journalists covering the protests.

Palestinian children play on a street during a power cut in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, on January 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Palestinian children play on a street during a power cut in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, on January 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Hamas said Monday it had agreed to release those arrested in connection with protests over the electricity shortages.

The interior ministry in Gaza, run by Hamas, said in a statement the decision was made after a meeting between security chiefs and political movements in the Palestinian enclave.

It did not say how many people were being released, but rights activists said it involved dozens of people.

The crisis in Gaza could be coming to a halt, after Qatar announced on Sunday that it was donating $12 million to buy fuel Gaza’s sole power plant.

On Saturday, Turkey pledged to send 15,000 tons of fuel to the Gaza Strip in an effort to end the crippling electricity shortage in the Palestinian enclave.

Gaza’s electricity authority said Monday it was returning to providing power in eight-hour intervals after the pledges by Turkey and Qatar.

Times of Israel reporter Avi Issacharoff on Monday photographed a number of fuel tankers at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza.

Despite the recent development, activists in the Strip called the Youth Movement in Gaza are planning another protest over the energy crisis at 6 p.m. Monday.

Last night in Ramallah’s centrally located al-Manara square, masked men set fire to pictures of Hamas leaders in protest over the energy crisis in the Strip.

The Palestinian Authority handles fuel purchases from Israel since the Israeli authorities do not deal directly with Hamas, which it and most Western countries consider a terrorist organization.

The PA then requires Hamas to reimburse it for bills and taxes, but Gaza’s electricity authority faces cash shortages because nearly 70 percent of households do not pay their bills, either because of poverty or lack of collection, the UN estimates.

The power plant, which has also been previously bombed by Israel, already functioned below capacity even before the recent crisis.

Life has become increasingly difficult for Gaza’s 2 million residents, who are squeezed into the tiny coastal territory. Hamas’s violent takeover of the strip, in a coup against the PA, a decade ago triggered a border blockade by Israel and Egypt that, among other things, sharply aggravated power shortages.

The two Palestinian factions have been unable to form a unity government and have been in an extended dispute over tax bills on fuel imports.

Agencies and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.

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