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Under siege: 70% of Gaza blacked out; Israel turns away convoy carrying medicine

Nov. 16, 2008 5:33 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 16, 2008 5:33 P.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - Seventy percent of the Gaza Strip is blacked out on Sunday night after Israel blocked deliveries fuel for Gaza's power plant for the fifth consecutive day, a high-ranking Palestinian energy official said.

Kan'an Ubeid, the deputy chief of the Palestinian Energy Authority, said in a press conference in Gaza that in addition to the shutdown of the diesel-fueled power plant, the electric network bringing in power from Israel collapsed due to increased pressure on the system.

There have been rolling blackouts in Gaza since the power station shut down on Thursday. Israel has sealed its borders with Gaza virtually every day since 4 November, blocking deliveries of food, fuel, and medicine. The United Nations was forced to suspend a food program serving 750,000 Palestinians on Friday due to the blockade.

Ubeid said that as a part of its strict blockade, Israel is also preventing the import of equipment and spare parts, including generators, cables, meters and wires, needed to repair the power lines bringing electricity from Israel.

He said that a lack of cooking gas forced residents living in areas supplied with Israeli electricity have relied more on electric heating, increasing the pressure on the network.

The lack of spare parts also means that repairs cannot be made to generators powering hospitals and other key infrastructure. The main generator at the European Hospital in Khan Younis has already shut down, as has the backup generator at Ash-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the Strip's largest medical center.

The power cuts also mean that local water utilities cannot pump water with sufficient pressure, meaning that high rise buildings are without water.

Medical convoy blocked

Earlier, Israeli border police prevented 15 trucks loaded with medication from entering the Gaza Strip on Sunday, according to a de facto Health Ministry representative.

Emergency and Ambulance Services Director General Mu'awiyya Hassanein said despite that the Health Ministry lacks over 300 types of necessary medication, the 15 trucks were stopped at the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza. Hassanein said Gaza hospitals would soon run out of several other medications, as well.

Hassanein told Ma'an in a telephone interview that "the health situation is getting worse" in Gaza.

"A health disaster will occur if Israel continues to prevent the shipment of medicine to Gaza," he added.

On Sunday, the siege's death toll rose to 258, when a seven-month-old baby died at the Ash-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

Meanwhile, about 400 patients suffering from cancer and heart diseases are awaiting treatment in Israeli and West Bank hospitals. Israel has only allowed 270 other Gaza patients to receive treatment since the blockade was imposed in early November.

Hassanein appealed for international health organizations to intervene to "save Gaza Strip hospitals from the health disaster, which has already begun."

***Updated at 19:45 local time

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