As Israeli restrictions tighten, Gaza’s sole power plant to shut down on Tuesday

After Gaza-based terror groups launched hundreds of explosive balloons from Gaza, Israel closed Kerem Shalom crossing, blocking fuel the power plant needs to function

A general view of the only electrical plant that generates electricity in the central Gaza Strip, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
A general view of the only electrical plant that generates electricity in the central Gaza Strip, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Gaza’s only power plant will shut down on Tuesday because of a lack of diesel fuel, the Hamas-run Gaza Energy Authority said in a statement.

Following Gaza-based terror groups’ launching of hundreds of explosive and incendiary devices attached to bundles of balloons into Israel in recent days, as well as several rockets, Israel shuttered the Kerem Shalom goods crossing, also halting diesel fuel, which the power plant needs to function, from entering.

The policy aims to pressure the Hamas terror group into halting the balloon attacks.

The plant’s shutdown will drastically reduce the meager supply of electricity which Gaza residents receive. The Gaza plant provides roughly a third of the Gaza Strip’s barely-adequate electricity supply, with the remainder provided by the Israel Electric Corporation.

Blackouts are already a regular feature of life in the Gaza Strip: On a good day, electricity is available for around 12 hours. The Gaza Energy Authority estimates that the electricity deficit will increase to 75% without a functioning Gaza power station, meaning Gazans could see their already-slim electricity rations plunge to as low as four hours a day.

A picture taken on June 13, 2017, shows Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City. (AFP/ THOMAS COEX)

This is not the first electricity clash the Gaza Strip has witnessed in recent years. In 2017, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority engaged in a protracted struggle during which the embattled coastal enclave witnessed similarly drastic power cuts.

Clashes between Gaza groups and Israel saw a brief lull in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the situation inside Gaza has deteriorated dramatically in recent months, with already sky-high 50 percent unemployment climbing to 60%. The Qatari government sent a few rounds of aid in the early stages of the pandemic, but is reportedly dragging its feet on sending more.

Tensions have been rising along Israel’s border with Gaza for several days, with hundreds of balloons launched across the border. For eight consecutive nights, the Israeli Air Force has retaliated by bombing Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Saturday night saw the most intense exchanges so far. Gaza-based groups launched rockets into Israel, some of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. Around 800 Palestinians also gathered close to the border fence in Gaza City, some of whom engaged in violent clashes with Israeli soldiers.

At least two Palestinians were injured by live fire, one in the stomach and one in the lower torso, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry. An Israeli man was also lightly injured in Sderot when fragments of an Iron Dome interceptor missile landed in front of his house.

Illustrative: An IDF soldier stands in front of a fire near Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel that was sparked by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli authorities have gradually tightened restrictions on the Strip in an attempt to pressure the terror group: First by closing the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel to all goods except for food and fuel last week; then by reducing the amount of space in the fishing zone; and then further by banning fuel. Israeli authorities announced on Sunday morning that they were shutting down the Gaza fishing zone as well.

“Hamas is accountable for all that is done in the Gaza Strip, as well as for actions launched from Gaza against Israel. Therefore, Hamas will have to bear the consequences of the violence committed against the citizens of Israel as long as the security calm doesn’t remain,” the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement.

Several rights groups argue that Gazan civilians are being forced to pay the price — in the midst of a pandemic — for terrorism by the Gaza-based groups.

“The launching of incendiary balloons threatens civilian population centers and is a breach of international law,” nine Israeli human rights organizations wrote in response to the restrictions, “but it does not justify the imposition of punitive measures against the civilian population in the Strip for actions that are outside of its control.”

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