UN official: Qatar to buy fuel for Gaza’s only power plant

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator, confirms reports of new aid influx; PA reportedly livid over move, which is seen as propping up Hamas

A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip's sole electricity plant, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel, on February 15, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip's sole electricity plant, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel, on February 15, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A top United Nations official in Gaza said Qatar is buying fuel to restart the only power plant in the beleaguered enclave.

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, said Tuesday that this will add a few more hours of electricity to Gaza’s 2 million residents who experience daily blackouts of up to 16 hours.

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.

Local Palestinian reports said the fuel has already started to enter through Israel, but the company that runs the power station declined to comment.

The Qatari aid has sparked new rounds of threats from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was said on Saturday to be planning on cutting the flow of funds to the Hamas-run coastal territory over news of the expected influx of Qatari cash that Abbas fears could bolster the rule of the terror group in Gaza.

“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,” said a PA official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from the PA in a violent coup in 2007.

Senior Israeli defense officials told Hadashot news over the weekend that Abbas was particularly frustrated with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Nikolay Mladenov, who facilitated the transfer of Qatari aid despite the PA president’s staunch objections.

While Abbas seeks to weaken Hamas, which has faced growing criticism in Gaza over the territory’s economic collapse, 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.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that Abbas had a tense phone call with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in which the latter warned Abbas that additional measures against the Gaza Strip would endanger the security of Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Abbas was said to have responded defiantly by saying, “It is the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood state in Gaza that is endangering the national security of Egypt, not me and my policies.” Hamas is an ideological offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and backed the group in the political turmoil that have wracked Egypt since the fall of strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight in their family home, during a power cut in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 18, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Earlier Saturday, the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported that Qatar has begun funneling funds to the Gaza Strip via Israel with US and UN approval, bypassing the opposition of the Palestinian Authority.

It said Israel, through the UN, had received Qatari funds for six months of increased fuel to Gaza’s only power plant — which will allow more hours of electricity to the beleaguered Strip — despite the PA’s efforts to thwart the action.

The Lebanese daily also reported that the UN would provide funds to pay three months of salaries to Gaza’s civil servants, and that Israel had agreed in principle to provide permits to 5,000 Gazan merchants to enter its territory for business purposes.

The Haaretz daily reported Thursday that Qatar had agreed to purchase fuel for Gaza under a UN-brokered deal seeking to mitigate the severe energy crisis gripping the Palestinian enclave.

The majority of households in Gaza receive an average of three to four hours of electricity a day. The new funds would double that amount to around eight hours a day.

Abbas has contended that the PA should not be held financially responsible for the Gaza Strip where Hamas is in charge. He has, in the past, shown interest in reconciling with the terror group and returning PA rule to the coastal enclave. However, Abbas has refused to do so unless Hamas disarms — a condition that the Islamist group has shown no interest in accepting.

But a number of Arab governments have objected to Abbas’s desire to choke off Hamas in Gaza, concluding that such a measure would lead to a spike in violence.

In addition to Qatar, Egypt has also acted to continue a flow of funds to the coastal enclave in efforts that have increasingly frustrated Abbas.

Illustrative: Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

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.

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