Egypt will provide hundreds of tons of fuel oil for the Gaza Strip’s only power station, a measure expected to ease the ongoing electricity crisis in the Palestinian enclave, local media reported Tuesday.
The Safa news agency, which is close to Hamas, citing an unnamed official, said that 500 tons of fuel a day will be trucked through the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, enough to bring the power station back on-line.
The power station was expected to return to operation by Wednesday, however, even at full capacity it cannot supply all of Gaza’s electricity needs.
Trucks will be able to enter Gaza even if the Rafa crossing is closed to other traffic, the official said. The report did not say how the cost of the fuel would be covered. Earlier this month a Hamas delegation traveled to Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials.
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.
Safa did not report if the fuel oil truck supplies were dependent on Hamas agreeing to any of the Egyptian demands.
The fuel development comes a day after Israel, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, began reducing the amount of electricity it provides Gaza. Supplies were to be gradually dropped until they matched only what the PA was prepared to pay for after earlier this year it said it would fund little more than half the amount it had paid for in the past.
Israel had been supplying 125 megawatt-hours to Gaza and has been the Strip’s main source of power for over two months after the sole power station ran out of fuel in April, leaving the Hamas-ruled territory with just four to six hours of power a day.
On Tuesday, Israel apparently further reduced the supply by another 8 megawatt-hours, the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority said on its website, adding that it was informed that the reductions would continue daily until they reach the desired cut requested by the PA.
Qatar has in the past stepped in to buy fuel for the power plant, but has so far showed no intention of coming to the Strip’s rescue in the current crisis.
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 125 megawatt-hours to Gaza, 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have both argued in recent days that Israel is 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 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.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.