Israel said on Sunday that it would reduce the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip, after the Palestinian Authority said it would not continue to pay the bill.
The decision, which could have a major humanitarian impact on the Strip’s two million residents, who are already facing an energy crisis, was announced by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai during an interview on BBC Arabic.
“Israel is forced to reduce the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip,” he said, blaming the move on an internal power struggle between the Palestinians.
“This is an internal Palestinian issue, not an Israeli-Palestinian issue,” Mordechai said. “Unfortunately there are internal problems between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and this brought about a decision by the PA not to finance the electricity,” he added.
The PA first informed Israel back in April it would no longer pay for Gaza’s electricity.
The move is part of a series of steps aimed a forcing Hamas to either cede control of the Gaza Strip back to the PA, or take full responsibility for the enclave.
Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after a violent conflict with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
A spokesperson for COGAT told The Times of Israel “no official time” has been chosen to put the measure into effect.
According to Mordechai, Israel is presently the only supplier of electricity to the Gaza Strip.
Gaza’s residents have already been experiencing deep power cuts for the last two months, having just four to six hours of electricity a day.
The embattled 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 Mordechai, Israel currently supplies Gaza with 125 megawatts monthly — around 30% of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day. Israel had also decided to provide another 100 megawatts a month.
After the new decision is implemented, Israel will supply Gaza with only 75 megawatts a month.
The PA has been paying 40 million shekels ($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 20-25 million shekels ($5.6- 7 million) a month for electricity to Gaza.
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri rejected to Mordechai’s assertions, saying that “Israel does not provide electricity to Gaza for free. It deducts more than $80 million monthly from through customs taxes.”
In May, Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA’s Civil Affairs Department, said Hamas profits 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.
Mordechai echoed these 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.
The Israeli general said Hamas leaders enjoy electricity 24 hours a day, and that each member of the group is provided with a generator and fuel. “Hamas prefers its interests over the interests of the people of Gaza,” he said.
Without a sufficient supply of power, Gaza’s current “humanitarian crisis” will deepen, the World Bank warned in an April report.
Gaza’s health ministry has warned of cutbacks on hospital care due to a lack of power.
Gazans are also dependent on water desalinization plants to provide them with drinking water. Without power, the operation of these plants will be further compromised.
Water expert Dr. Yousef Abu-Mayla from the University of Al-Azhar of Gaza said earlier this month at the Sharing Knowledge Foundation Conference in Jordan that just 10% of Gazans currently have access to safe drinking water, as even desalinated Gaza water is susceptible to biological contamination.
The price of drinkable water in Gaza is so prohibitive, he added, “vulnerable households end up spending one-third of their income on water.”
Hamas, which openly calls for the Jewish state’s destruction, has fought three wars with Israel since 2007, and continues to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels into Israel in preparation for another round of conflict.