Hamas has recently bought large quantities of diesel fuel from Egypt in an effort to increase the output of the Gaza Strip’s only power station, after months of refusing to shell out money to provide electricity to the Palestinian enclave’s residents.
Already-limited power supplies in the Strip have been further squeezed amid a spat between Hamas and the Mahmoud-Abbas-led Palestinian Authority over who should pay for the fuel.
The purchase of some 30 million liters of diesel from Egypt, at a cost of NIS 90 million ($25 million), marks a change in attitude on the part of Gaza’s rulers, likely indicating a bid to stave off a repeat of street protests that roiled the enclave last winter.
Most Gazans — aside from some areas in the north of the Strip — now get six hours of electricity instead of the previous four, but still must wait through periodic 12-hour blackouts.
Hamas, a terror group that is the de facto ruler of the Strip, has refused to pay for Israeli electricity, claiming the PA is responsible for funding it, while spending millions of dollars on military infrastructure. Earlier this year the PA reduced the amount of electricity it was willing to pay for, and as a result electricity supplies in Gaza were reduced from six to four hours followed by a 12-hour blackout.
In June, former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan struck a deal between Egypt and Hamas by which Cairo would begin trucking in fuel, paid for by the United Arab Emirates. In a shift, Hamas will now begin paying the fuel and bring more of it in, sources told The Times of Israel.
The cost of the fuel oil Hamas purchased from Egypt amounts to six times the amount the PA cut, and marked a move by the Gaza authorities to divert funds into improving the local infrastructure problems.
The electricity crisis came to a head earlier this year when the PA — which is dominated by Hamas rival Fatah — cut back some NIS 15 million ($4.2 million) each month from the NIS 40 million ($11.4 million) it was paying to Israel for electricity in Gaza, part of a series of steps meant to pressure Hamas.
The deal comes as a Hamas delegation, led by the group’s chief Ismail Haniyah, is currently in Cairo for talks with Egyptian security chiefs.
Fatah attempts to pressure Hamas have also brought about a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the enclave, a rights watchdog said in June, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.
Abbas, who opposes what he sees as Hamas’s shadow government in Gaza, has said privately that he is tired of being Hamas’s “ATM machine” and that if Hamas wants PA money it must cede power to the PA in the Strip.
Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Abbas’s PA in a bloody coup in 2007. Years of reconciliation efforts have so far yielded nothing.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.