After years in the dark, Gaza’s power woes ease

Israel-Hamas deal allowing Qatari fuel into Strip more than doubles the number of hours electricity is provided per day, allowing businesses to operate longer

A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip's sole electricity plant, which provides a fifth of the embattled region's power needs, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel, as per local officials, on February 15, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip's sole electricity plant, which provides a fifth of the embattled region's power needs, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel, as per local officials, on February 15, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The lights are going back on in the Gaza Strip, in a rare piece of positive news from the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

In recent days, residents say they have received up to 16 hours of power from the grid per day, compared with as little as four previously.

UN humanitarian officials report an average of between nine and 11 hours per day since October 25.

It is the result of a landmark six-month deal, part of efforts to end unrest along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip that has raised fears of a fourth war since 2008.

The deal emerged amid ongoing indirect negotiations between terror group Hamas, which rules the Strip, and Israel, mediated by the UN and Egypt, in hopes of reaching a long-term truce.

The fuel agreement, whose first deliveries arrived on October 9, has provided the most power to Gaza residents in years.

The tentative results are showing in the enclave’s beleaguered economy: companies able to work longer, restaurant costs falling, and even an increase in ice cream.

A tanker delivers fuel to the Nuseirat power plant in the Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Margins are tight for Kamal Fattoum’s two-man box factory in Gaza City and his meager profits would evaporate if he were to run a generator.

He only uses the heavy equipment needed during the hours he has electricity, so his workday had shortened in tandem with Gaza’s dwindling power supply.

The uptick has had an immediate impact.

“Instead of working for four hours we can work for eight or more,” he explained.

Abbas opposed

Last month’s deal sees Qatar pay $60 million for fuel delivered to Gaza’s sole power station.

The deliveries are sent through Israel, which agreed on condition that the United Nations monitors them to avoid interference by Hamas, which it has long accused of diverting humanitarian aid for terror purposes at the expense of Gaza’a population.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks to the press after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on September 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ludovic Marin)

The deal was made without the backing of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank and run by its president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas lost control of Gaza to Hamas in a 2007 violent takeover, prompting Israel’s blockade, which Jerusalem says is necessary to keep the terror group from obtaining weapons or materials to make them.

Egypt had also kept its border with Gaza mostly closed in recent years before opening it in May.

UN officials and rights groups have called for the blockade to be lifted, saying it has helped impoverish the two million people stuck in the cramped enclave.

Hamas-backed border protests and clashes that began on March 30 have led to the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians — of whom Hamas has admitted dozens were its members — and an Israeli soldier.

Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli troops during a protest on the beach at the border with Israel near Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Oct. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

International powers have traditionally sought Abbas’s support before carrying out aid programs in Gaza, but he opposed this agreement, saying it legitimizes Hamas’s rule.

He has also imposed punitive measures on Gaza.

Unable to get Abbas to back the deal, UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and others worked around him.

More television

The result is rates of power the likes of which some Gazans say they can barely remember.

Coupled with preexisting electricity delivered from Israel, Gaza now has about 200 megawatts a day, said Mohammed Thabet, spokesman for the Gazan energy company.

It is short of the 400-500 megawatts needed for full power, but enough to see service double or more.

“We were paying around 800 shekels ($215) a day for 12 hours power from a generator,” said Karam Al-Tali, deputy manager of a restaurant in Gaza City.

Now they only need to buy three hours of power from a generator thanks to the increase in electricity from the grid, he said.

The kebabs and sandwiches they sell go for just 14 shekels ($3.50), he pointed out.

A palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage June 11, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

Nearby a corner shop now has enough electricity to power freezers — meaning they are stocking ice cream again.

The UN’s Mladenov said in a statement to AFP the Qatari donation was making “a visible difference in the lives of people.”

“This should point the way to what other donors can do if they want to help avoid a war and help those in need.”

Indirect talks are continuing on a long-term truce, and on Friday Gaza protest leaders called for calmer demonstrations along the border.

Those calls were largely heeded, resulting in one of the calmest Friday protests since demonstrations began in March.

The electricity deal may yet be a false dawn. Western diplomats say there can be no major rebuilding of Gaza while Hamas remains in control.

Electricity shortages will likely intensify again as winter kicks in and more energy-sapping heaters are switched on.

Mahed Dahdour, 38, said the impact for his building company would only be significant if Israel eased the blockade.

“Electricity without money is nothing,” he said.

But for now residents are taking advantage of the power boost — with at least one downside.

Umm Yusef, who lives in a crumbling house with her five kids in Gaza City, said of her children: “They used to study more. Now you can’t even talk to them — they are watching the TV!”

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