Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday distanced Israel from responsibility for the worsening electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, saying the matter was an internal Palestinian dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel has “no interest in an escalation with Hamas,” the prime minister added.
Netanyahu’s comments came a day after the Israeli security cabinet decided Sunday night it would cut the amount of power it supplies to Gaza, at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, the ruling party in the Strip and his Fatah party’s bitter rival.
Hamas responded to the decision by saying Monday it would have “disastrous and dangerous” results that could lead to an outbreak of violence.
Speaking at ceremony to launch a major housing construction drive in the central Israeli town of Be’er Yaakov, Netanyahu said Israel was not seeking a confrontation with the Hamas terror group.
“The issue of electricity in Gaza is a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “Hamas is demanding that the PA pay for the electricity, and the Palestinian Authority is refusing to pay. It is an internal Palestinian dispute.”
“In any case, I want to make it clear that Israel has no interest in an escalation [with Hamas] and any other speculation is wrong. But we have an interest in security, and our policy is clear on the subject of security and it won’t change,” he said.
Hamas on Monday had warned the spiraling crisis could result in war.
“The decision of the occupation to reduce the electricity to Gaza at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is catastrophic and dangerous. It will accelerate the deterioration and explode the situation in the Strip,” said Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua on Monday, using an epithet for Israel.
“Those who will bear the consequences of this decision are the Israeli enemy, who is besieging the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,” he added.
Gazans currently receive only between three and four hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt.
The Israeli cabinet decision would see a reduction of about 45 minutes to the amount of time every day during which Gaza receives electricity, Israeli media reported.
During the cabinet meeting top military officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, warned that the power cut could lead to an escalation in violence while welcoming the pressure on Hamas, according to a Haaretz report, citing a member of the security cabinet.
The power cuts, as well as a number of other steps taken by the PA since last month, are aimed at forcing Hamas to cede control of the Strip, or begin footing the bill itself.
Both Israel and the PA charge that Hamas 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.
Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after a violent conflict with the Fatah party. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
The enclave’s only power plant stopped running in April, after Hamas ran out of fuel and refused to purchase more from the Palestinian Authority over what it said were high taxes.
Egypt also provided a small amount of power to Gaza, but those power lines have been malfunctioning.
According to Major General Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, the Defense Ministry unit that administers civilian manners in the Palestinian territories, Israel currently supplies Gaza with 125 megawatts monthly — around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.
After the new decision is implemented, Israel will supply Gaza with only 75 megawatts a month.
The PA has been paying NIS 40 million ($11.1 million) a month for the 125 megawatts. Mordechai said he received an “official notice” from Ramallah saying it is “interested in transferring” just NIS 20-25 million ($5.6-7 million) a month for electricity to Gaza.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.