Israel will cut electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip after an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to put pressure on Hamas. The decision is expected to shorten the daily average of four hours of power Gaza’s two million residents receive by 45 minutes, Israel’s security cabinet said.
Human rights groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis as the electricity shortages could leave schools, hospitals and businesses unable to operate fully. Clean water supplies have begun to dwindle as desalination plants are left without power.
It is not clear when the cuts are due to begin.
The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) blamed Hamas’s failure to reimburse it for electricity for the reduction in power supplies. However, PA spokesman Tareq Rashmawi coupled that explanation with a demand Hamas agree to unity initiatives of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, which include holding the first parliamentary and presidential elections in more than a decade.
“We renew the call to the Hamas movement and the de facto government there to hand over to us all responsibilities of government institutions in Gaza so that the government can provide its best services to our people in Gaza,” he said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel and the Palestinian Authority “will bear responsibility for the grave deterioration” in Gaza’s health and environmental situation.
Any worsening to Gaza’s power crisis – its only power plant is offline after running out of fuel in a Hamas-PA dispute over taxation – could cause the collapse of health services already reliant on standalone generators, many of them in a poor state of repair, Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the health ministry in Gaza, said.
Medical Aid for Palestinians CEO Aimee Shalan said: ““The international community’s failure to solve Gaza’s devastating fuel and electricity crisis – and the 10-year blockade and closure of which it is a part – is severely affecting the lives of ordinary Palestinians. With only a few hours of mains electricity per day, hospitals are forced to rely on generators for power, the fuel for which is now carefully rationed and in danger of running out entirely.
“Surgeries have already been cancelled, and hospitals forced to cut back on essential cleaning and sterilisation services. Medical equipment is rapidly degrading due to constant fluctuations in electrical current. Any further cuts to electricity supply in Gaza will therefore have potentially disastrous effects. The lives of patients in intensive care, including approximately 100 babies, will be immediately endangered should supplies dwindle further.”
Israel charges the PA 40 million shekels (£8.9m) a month for electricity, deducting that from the transfers of Palestinian tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Authority.
Israel does not engage with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.
Last month, the Palestinian Authority informed Israel it would cover only 70 per cent of the monthly cost of electricity the Israel Electric Corporation supplies to the Gaza Strip. At the security cabinet session on Sunday, ministers decided Israel would not make up the shortfall, the officials said.
“This is a decision by [Mr Abbas] … Israelis paying Gaza’s electricity bill is an impossible situation,” Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, said on Army Radio.
Israeli military and security chiefs backed the move, despite concern Hamas could respond by increasing hostilities with Israel.
Palestinians protest against some of the worst power cuts in 10 years in Jabalia in northern Gaza (AFP)
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “Providing electricity to the Gaza Strip is an internal Palestinian issue: Hamas wants the PA to pay for it and the PA refuses.
“We’re not interested in an escalation vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip but we are interested in security and our policy hasn’t changed.”
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement in 2007, and several attempts at reconciliation, most recently in 2014, have failed. Hamas has accused Mr Abbas of trying to turn the screw on them to make political concessions.