The United Nations said Wednesday that Gazans were being held hostage to Palestinian political infighting, warning that longer blackouts triggered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened a “total collapse” of basic services.
Gazans currently receive only three to four hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt.
The Israeli cabinet decided Sunday night it would cut the daily amount of power it supplies to the Gaza Strip by between 45 and 60 minutes at the behest of Abbas, who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Gaza’s Hamas rulers, his Fatah party’s bitter rival.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Robert Piper, warned the additional power cuts would have a disastrous effect.
Hospitals, water supply, waste water treatment and sanitation services have already been dramatically cut back since mid-April, he said, 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,” he said.
“If, as a result of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions, this [Israeli] decision is implemented, the situation will become catastrophic,” Piper warned.
He called upon the PA, Hamas and Israel to put the welfare of Gaza’s residents first and to take the necessary measures to avoid further suffering.
The Hamas terror group has run Gaza since 2007, when it seized the territory in a bloody coup from Abbas loyalists in a dispute over parliamentary elections swept by the Islamist movement the previous year.
Multiple attempts at reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah movement have failed, but his Palestinian Authority has continued to pay for various services in Gaza, including some electricity delivered from Israel.
PA policy on the matter appears to have changed, however, and Hamas was seeing difficulties in maintaining many basic services.
According to Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), the PA used to pay $4 million monthly for the regular operation of 13 government hospitals and 54 primary care centers. In April, the sum was down to $2.3 million, and in May it fell to just $500,000, the organization said.
Information given to PHRI by Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry showed that “one-third of essential medicines and more than 270 medical equipment items for operating rooms and intensive care units can no longer be obtained in the Health Ministry’s storerooms and in Gaza hospitals.“
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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that “Israel has no interest in an escalation” of the situation in Gaza.
He said the issue was related to an “internal Palestinian dispute,” adding that the PA was refusing to pay for electricity.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan added that “It would be illogical for Israel to pay part of the bill.”
Hamas also said the cut was made on Abbas’s orders and termed it “a catastrophe.”
“This decision aggravates the situation and risks an explosion in the Gaza Strip,” it said in a statement on Monday.
But on Wednesday Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman dismissed the idea of a humanitarian crisis in the tiny enclave of some two million people.
“It is clear the Gaza Strip is not Switzerland, but there is no humanitarian crisis,” he said, citing the “hundreds” of trucks delivering goods each day.