Despite warnings of a mounting humanitarian crisis and possible outbreak of violence, Israel on Monday reduced the amount of electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip, acceding to a request from the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA) said in a statement on its website that Israel decreased the amount of power it supplies to the Strip by eight megawatt-hours.
Israel had been supplying 125 megawatt-hours to Gaza and has been the Strip’s main source of power for over two months, leaving the Hamas-ruled territory with just four to six hours of power a day.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesperson for the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, said in a statement that Israel would “bear responsibility for the consequences of the reduction” because it “levies taxes on crossings [into Gaza] that are enough [to pay] for Gaza’s electricity and more.”
PENRA, in its statement, called the reduction an “initial step” by Israel to “gradually” carry out its decision to grant the PA’s request to reduce significantly the power supply to Gaza.
The Gaza-based authority added that the move could have “dangerous effects on the electricity situation in the Gaza Strip.”
Gaza electricity distribution company spokesperson Mohammad Thabbet on Monday told the Gaza-based news site al-Raiy the Strip would see between two to three hours of electricity daily once Israel finished its reductions. Thabbet also told the Palestinian news outlet Safa that after the reduction, the Gaza power company would no longer be able to maintain the current schedule of four hours of electricity followed by 12-hour blackouts.
The Israeli Defense Ministry branch responsible for overseeing the transfer of electricity to Gaza did not immediately respond to questions regarding the reduction.
In April the PA told Israel that it would begin to pay only NIS 25 million ($7 million) of the NIS 40 million ($11 million) it has been paying monthly for power to Gaza. Israel at the time supplied 125 megawatt-hours to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.
The power cuts, as well as a number of other steps taken by the PA since last month, are aimed by the PA of President Mahmoud Abbas at forcing Hamas to cede control of the Strip, or begin footing the bill itself. Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Fatah party in a violent 2007 takeover.
The PA’s new strategy to squeeze Hamas out of power, which also includes cutting government salaries to Gazans and a massive reduction in medical aid supplied to the Strip, coincides with the 10-year anniversary of Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have both argued in recent days that Israel is not party to the internal Palestinian dispute between Hamas and the PA that has led to the power crisis in Gaza.
Liberman said Thursday that Israel was a mere “supplier of electricity and was prepared to supply electricity” if the Palestinians paid for it. “This is an [internal] Palestinian crisis; those who need to pay for electricity are the leaders of Hamas, of the Palestinian Authority — we are not a party in this,” he said.
Last week Hamas warned that Israel’s decision to accede to Abbas’s request and reduce Gaza’s already paltry power supply would have “disastrous and dangerous” results and could lead to an outbreak of violence.
Last Wednesday the United Nations along with 16 Israeli and international NGOs asked Israel not to reduce the power to Gaza, warning it could lead to a “total collapse” of basic services there.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Robert Piper, said Gaza’s hospitals, water supply, waste water treatment and sanitation services have already been dramatically cut back since mid-April, and depended almost exclusively on a UN emergency fuel operation.
“A further increase in the length of blackouts is likely to lead to a total collapse of basic services, including critical functions in the health, water and sanitation sectors,” Piper said in a statement. “The people in Gaza should not be held hostage to this longstanding internal Palestinian dispute.”
Amnesty International said reductions in power to Gaza “will have a disastrous impact on Gaza’s battered infrastructure and cause a public health disaster.
“The move will also endanger thousands of lives including those of hospital patients with chronic conditions or in intensive care, including babies on life support,” the organization added.
The administration of US President Donald Trump said last Tuesday that it was “concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” but placed the blame for the unfolding crisis on Hamas.
In a State Department news briefing, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said “no one should lose sight of the fact, of this fact, that Hamas bears the greatest responsibility for the current situation in Gaza.”
Both Israel and the PA charge that Hamas, which openly seeks the destruction of Israel, would have the money to supply Gaza’s power needs if it didn’t expend a large part of its resources on armament and preparation for future conflict with the Jewish state.
The prospect of even lengthier blackouts in Gaza has raised fears of a new upsurge in violence. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
However, both Israel and Hamas have said they are not interested in fourth round of conflict.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.