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Gaza’s only power plant shuts down as fuel runs out amid border tensions

Announcement comes days after Israel halted transfers of diesel into Strip in bid to pressure Hamas to end cross-border arson, rocket attacks

A picture shows a power generating facility in the middle of the Gaza Strip on August 17, 2020. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)
A picture shows a power generating facility in the middle of the Gaza Strip on August 17, 2020. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

Gaza’s only power plant ceased functioning on Tuesday morning, less than a week after Israel clamped down on fuel entering the Strip in response to rising cross-border attacks, drastically reducing the amount of electricity Gaza residents will receive, the Gaza Energy Authority announced.

Israel banned diesel fuel from entering the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing on Thursday after dozens of balloons and several rockets were launched from Gaza into Israeli territory.

Despite the punitive measures, the balloon and rocket attacks have only increased, sparking Israeli reprisals and ratcheting up tensions in the region.

Gazans already subsist on a meager ration of electricity — around 12 hours a day. Without a functioning power plant, that number could plunge to as low as three or four hours.

An Israeli police officer inspects the damage to a home after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot on August 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“The power cuts will have serious repercussions on the lives of premature babies in nurseries, intensive care patients and those needing dialysis, emergency surgery, or C-sections,” Hamas health spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said in a statement.

The electricity shortage crisis will deeply impact the already strained basic municipal services in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza municipalities announced in a joint statement that water would be provided only irregularly. Sewage treatment plants will also experience shutdowns, and waste will instead be pumped out into the open sea, the municipalities said in a statement.

The Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights warned of the potential for “a real disaster should [Israel’s] measures continue.”

Increasing restrictions, Egyptian mediation, and eight consecutive nights of Israeli Air Force strikes on Hamas observation posts have so far failed to prevent Gaza-based terror groups from launching balloon-borne arson devices and explosives into Israel.

Thousands of dunams have been set alight so far; 850 dunams (210 acres) burned in the first half of last week alone, according to Israeli authorities. Another 18 blazes were ignited in the Gaza border region since Tuesday morning, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire caused by a incendiary balloon launched by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and Gaza, Israel on August 16, 2020. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israel has gradually tightened restrictions on the Gaza Strip in an attempt to pressure the Hamas terror group, which controls the coastal enclave, to crack down on the balloon-launchers — first by closing the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing with Israel to all goods except for food and fuel last Tuesday. Two days later, it shut the spigot on fuel transfers 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,” the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement.

A member of Palestinian Hamas security forces stands outside the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on August 11, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Some Israeli rights groups, however, called the practice a form of collective punishment for which ordinary Gazans pay the price.

Forty-five percent of Gazans were unemployed during the first quarter of 2020, according to the human rights organization Gisha. During the coronavirus pandemic, the economic situation has deteriorated — although the pandemic has largely spared the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian groups claim that the escalation is the result of Israel violating a 2018 ceasefire agreement with Hamas. Some reports in Hebrew media, however, suggest that Hamas is attempting to pressure the Qatari government — which has been a major source of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip — to continue its payments to poor Gazan families, which are scheduled to end in September.

A Palestinian man stands at a closed power generating facility in the middle of the Gaza Strip on August 17, 2020. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

A delegation of Egyptian intelligence officials visited the Gaza Strip on Monday, reportedly to negotiate an agreement which would reduce tensions between the Hamas terror leadership and Israel. They left Gaza on Monday evening through the Erez-Beit Hanoun crossing with Israel without announcing whether or not an agreement had been reached.

The explosive balloons and Israeli retaliatory fire which filled the night skies in the Israeli south on Monday night suggested that the escalation was still ongoing.

“The Palestinian people, their forces and their factions, and at the forefront Hamas, will not allow this siege to continue and to remain a lived reality. We will work together to enter the battle with the enemy, with all our force and means and tools to end the siege,” Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum said on Tuesday.

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