Hamas warns Gaza electricity cut will lead to ‘explosion’
Terror group’s spokesman warns of ‘disastrous’ results should Israel implement Abbas’s request to decrease power to Strip; officials warn of humanitarian catastrophe
Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.
The Hamas terror group warned Monday that Israel’s decision to reduce Gaza’s already paltry power supply would have “disastrous and dangerous” results that could lead to an outbreak of violence.
The Israeli cabinet decided Sunday night it would cut the amount of power it supplies to the Gaza Strip at the behest of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, his Fatah party’s bitter rival.
The decision would see a reduction of about 45 minutes to the amount of time every day during which Gaza receives electricity, Israeli media reported.
“The decision of the occupation to reduce the electricity to Gaza at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is catastrophic and dangerous. It will accelerate the deterioration and explode the situation in the Strip,” said Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua.
“Those who will bear the consequences of this decision are the Israeli enemy, who is besieging the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,” he added.
Gazans currently receive only between three and four hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt.
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.
During the cabinet meeting top military officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, warned that the power cut could lead to an escalation in violence while welcoming the pressure on Hamas, according to a Haaretz report citing a member of the security cabinet.
Both Israel and the PA charge that Hamas 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.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a cabinet member, told Army Radio Monday morning the reduction was due to the ongoing feud between Hamas and Abbas.
Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after a violent conflict with the Fatah party.
“There’s no certainty that this will cause a military confrontation. It is possible that the Palestinians will begin to understand the catastrophe that Hamas means for them,” Erdan said.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
Electricity supply is a major concern in the hot and cramped territory, which is currently marking the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The enclave’s only power plant stopped running in April, after Hamas ran out of fuel and refused to purchase more from the Palestinian Authority over what it said were high taxes.
Egypt also provided a small amount of power to Gaza, but those power lines have been malfunctioning.
According to Major General Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, the Defense Ministry unit that administers civilian manners in the Palestinian territories, Israel currently supplies Gaza with 125 megawatts monthly — around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.
After the new decision is implemented, Israel will supply Gaza with only 75 megawatts a month.
Gaza’s health ministry spokesperson Dr. Ashraf al Qidra warned Monday of “dangerous consequences for the sick and general public health” in the Strip should the reduction take place.
Gazans are also dependent on water desalination plants to provide them with drinking water. Without power, the operation of these plants will be further compromised.
Just before the Israeli cabinet agreed to allow the reduction of power to Gaza, the Israeli NGO Gisha — Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, warned strongly against the move.
“At this point in time, entire hospital wings are shut down during blackouts and are forced to reduce essential, life-saving treatments, where there is not enough power to provide them,” the group said. “Water desalination stations cannot operate; 100 million liters of mostly untreated sewage are being pumped into the Mediterranean Sea daily; water for household use is only available intermittently; sewage cannot be pumped away from residential areas; and generators, which are supposed to provide an alternative, are over-extended, on the brink of collapse.”
The PA has been paying NIS 40 million ($11.1 million) a month for the 125 megawatts. Mordechai said he received an “official notice” from Ramallah saying it is “interested in transferring” just NIS 20-25 million ($5.6-7 million) a month for electricity to Gaza.
In May, Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA’s Civil Affairs Department, accused Hamas of profiting from collecting electricity payments from Gaza residents.
“We are not going to continue financing the Hamas coup in Gaza,” he told the Voice of Palestine radio station.
In a May 25 interview with the BBC, Mordechai echoed those accusations.
“Unfortunately, Hamas takes NIS 100 million ($28 million) a month from residents of the Gaza Strip: from the goods, from the taxes of all the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and this does not reach the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
“The reason for this is that Hamas prefers that the money go to the tunnels, to the digging and to the organization,” he added.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.