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Hamas to provide 'national carpool'

March 20, 2012 9:13 A.M. (Updated: March 22, 2012 9:49 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Civil servants will offer a free taxi service to residents of the Gaza Strip from Monday in an innovative response by Gaza's Hamas rulers to the ongoing fuel crisis.

Employees are being instructed to provide lifts to residents of the coastal enclave. The service will only be on offer during office hours as the government has also banned the use of official cars after 3 p.m., a statement said.

Fuel allowances for official cars will be halved, the government said after its weekly cabinet meeting. There are 1,800 cars in use by government officials in Gaza, it added.

At the weekly cabinet meeting, the government said the fuel shortage was a consequence of Israel's blockade of Gaza. Israel says it is ready to resume fuel shipments to Gaza but that Hamas has refused.

The cabinet also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, saying it has instructed the European Union to stop funding the power station in Gaza for political reasons.

Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement last May to end years of bitter rivalry but the unity deal has yet to be implemented.

The Gaza government said it had turned to Egypt to relieve the current fuel crisis and thanked Cairo for its efforts, adding that it was also in contact with Qatar, Algeria and Turkey to ease shortages.

The Egyptian ambassador to the PA Yasser Othman told Ma'an on Sunday that Egypt will provide fuel to Gaza in the next few days, despite an energy crisis of its own.

Earlier this year Egypt cut fuel supplies to Gaza, plunging Gaza into 18-hour blackouts per day and shutting down the sole power station.

The energy crisis has led to a shortage in domestic-use gas for heating and cooking, as residents exhaust limited supplies permitted into the blockaded coastal strip.

Muhammad al-Abadlah, a member of the gas stations union in Gaza, told Ma'an on Sunday that the shortages had worsened after Israel announced maintenance work on pipelines at its sole goods crossing.

The unusually cold spell during the past month has also depleted supplies.

Officials have warned that the ongoing crisis threatens hospitals' ability to treat patients, and business leaders say their operations are under threat.
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