Qatari-bought fuel arrived at the Gaza Strip’s only power station after entering through Israel on Tuesday in a bid to alleviate conditions in the Palestinian enclave, a Hamas spokesman and sources said.
The delivery could help ease months of protests and clashes along the border between Israel and Hamas-run Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade for more than a decade.
But it was met with criticism by officials close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose rival administration was not involved.
UN officials and Egypt have in recent weeks pursued indirect talks between terror group Hamas and Israel. Israeli officials refused to comment on the delivery.
A Palestinian source at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza — the only goods crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel — said six trucks carrying 450,000 liters of fuel crossed Tuesday.
AFP journalists saw at least one truck arriving at the power station in Gaza City.
“The Qatari fuel to the Gaza Strip’s power plant today is aimed at partially improving electricity (supply) in Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told AFP.
The trucks were the first part of a $60 million fuel donation from Qatar.
A Qatari official told the Reuters news agency that the donation came, “at the request of donor states in the United Nations, to prevent an escalation of the existing humanitarian disaster.”
For months residents of the strip have been receiving only four hours of electricity a day on average.
Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator, told the Reuters news agency the delivery will add a few more hours of electricity to Gaza’s 2 million residents.
He said the new cashflow could sustain this boost for at least six months and that discussions were underway to find the “most optimal way” to deliver the fuel through Israel.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in a 2007 near civil war and multiple reconciliation attempts aimed at restoring the PA to power in Gaza have failed.
Abbas says that making deals with Hamas amounts to recognizing their control over Gaza in place of the PA and has sought to block the fuel deliveries
In a statement Tuesday Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior official close to Abbas, threatened retaliatory measures if the fuel deliveries continued.
Abbas has reportedly threatened to cut off funds to Gaza in response to the fuel transfers.
“When Qatar pays for the fuel, Hamas in Gaza will collect the bills and put it in its pocket, and this is an indirect financial aid to Hamas,” a PA official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Israel fears further deterioration in Gaza could lead to another round of war on the southern border.
The halt of some $96 million that the PA sends monthly to the Gaza Strip could drive a desperate and cash-strapped Hamas toward conflict with Israel as a means of propping up its rule, and in the hope that bloodshed could generate sympathy for Gaza and reverse or replace the cut in aid from the US and Ramallah for Gazan welfare and development, Israeli officials believe.
Israel also worries that a spike in violence in the south could easily spread to the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Abbas was exacerbating Gaza woes and thereby fueling its residents’ aggression toward Israel.
“Abbas is strangling them economically and they lash out at Israel,” he told a press conference in his Jerusalem office.
Netanyahu did not specifically refer to the oil shipment but spoke of “attempts to reach a practical solution so that he will stop this strangulation.”
He said that if Gaza tension reached boiling point and brought an uptick in attacks on neighboring southern Israel “the price they will pay will be very great.”
“I’m not looking to launch unnecessary wars,” he said. “But if there’s no alternative you wage war with all your strength.”
Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.
But the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has worsened steadily, and Hamas’s reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down.
Meanwhile, clashes along the Israel-Gaza border since March, which Israel maintains are being directed by Hamas, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on Israeli troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, and attempts to breach the border fence.
Gazans have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.
At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.