Egypt on Wednesday began delivering diesel fuel to Gaza, a Palestinian official said, hoping to stave off the Palestinian enclave’s mounting electricity crisis.
The fuel, trucked in through the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza, will be routed to the territory’s only power station, which has been closed for several months due to fuel shortages.
The deliveries come three days after Israel, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, began reducing electricity supplies to Gaza, despite warnings by the United Nations and the Israeli NGOs that the measure could lead to a “total collapse” of Gaza’s infrastructure.
Wael Abu Omar, head of media at the Rafah crossing, said that eight shipments had entered, with a further 14 expected later in the day.
“A million liters (220,000 gallons) of fuel for the power plant will enter today,” he said.
That is enough to enable the power station to operate for two to three days, Samir Moutair, director general of the Gaza electricity company, told AFP.
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During a press conference held at the Rafah crossing, Gaza security chief and Deputy Minister of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry Tawfiq Abu Naim said, “We hope that this support of fuel from the Arab Republic continues to the Gaza Strip, which has embraced the Palestinian cause.”
The emergency supplies from Egypt will not be enough to completely solve Gaza’s electricity woes.
The Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA) said today that Israel had reduced a total of 24 megawatts from the feeder lines over the past three days, and is expected to reduce another 16 over the next two days.
According to Penra, Israel had been supplying 120 MW, though according to the Israeli army it had been supplying 125 MW.
Gaza’s power station can only supply 22% of what is needed to power Gaza daily, according to the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA).
The deputy head of PENRA, Fathi Sheikh Khalil, told the Gaza-based news site al-Ray that Gaza would have trouble supplying even partial power with the Israeli reduction.
Before the Strip’s power station stopped working, Gazans were receiving eight hours of electricity during the day followed by 12 hours without power.
The cycle was broken after Hamas refused to buy more diesel fuel from the PA, saying the it was taxed too much.
Since April, Gazans have received four to six hours of power per day. That number was expected to fall to two to three hours a day after the Israeli reductions.
Khalil added that technical teams from Hamas and Egypt will meet after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr next week to discuss matter more in depth.
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 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 at forcing Hamas to cede control of the Strip, or begin footing the bill itself. Hamas seized control of Gaza from PA President Mahmoud 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.
Last week Arab media reported that Egypt offered Hamas more freedom at its border and much-needed electricity in exchange for the terror group agreeing to a list of security requests that included, among other things a demand that Hamas hand over 17 men wanted by Cairo on terrorism charges, the cessation of weapons smuggling into the Sinai Peninsula, and information on the movement of militants into Gaza via underground tunnels, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have both argued in recent days that Israel was not party to the internal Palestinian dispute between Hamas and the PA that has led to the power crisis in Gaza.
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.
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 a fourth round of conflict.
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.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.