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Hamas: Israel and its 'accomplices' responsible for death of 3 siblings in Gaza fire

May 7, 2016 5:28 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2016 3:46 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- A senior Hamas official blamed Israel and its “accomplices” -- an implicit jab at the Palestinian Authority -- for the house fire that killed three siblings and left three others seriously burned on Friday night in al-Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip.

On Saturday during the funeral for the three children, Ismail Haniyeh said: “The enemy’s warplanes have been burning lands and houses, while Israel’s crippling siege imposed on Gaza and its accomplices are now burning our children.”

The house fire was caused by candles that the family used during a power cut, Gaza’s civil defense services told Ma’an Friday. Local medical sources identified the victims as three-year-old Yusra Muhammad Abu Hindi, two-year-old Rahaf Muhammad Abu Hindi, and two-month-old Nasser Muhammad Abu Hindi.

“Should Gaza -- whose people live under a crippling blockade -- be blamed?” he asked, likely implying that Hamas, the Gaza Strip's de facto ruling party, could not be held responsible for the besieged coastal enclave’s energy crisis.

“Who has been taking $70 million dollars a month in taxes from Gaza? Who has been collecting fuel taxes? Who refused to enlarge the power supply from Egypt to the Gaza Strip and refused to build a pipeline to provide Gaza’s power station with gas to increase its capacity?” Haniyeh continued, listing a set of policy decisions imposed by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip Ashraf al-Qidra also said Friday that “those responsible for the Gaza siege” were tacitly responsibly for the fire. He warned of possible similar atrocities as Gaza residents continue to use candles and other alternatives in light of the continuous power cuts.

Later on Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned the bereaved family to offer condolences. Governor of Gaza City Abdullah al-Ifranji told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that Abbas also ordered the relevant officials to provide financial support to help rebuild the family's house which was completely destroyed by the fire.

Residents of the Gaza Strip continue to suffer from limited power availability following a still unresolved issue with the Egyptian power lines reported earlier this month.

Locals told Ma’an on Saturday that for the last month, all districts have only been provided power at six-hour intervals followed by 12-hour power cuts, with the exception of a few days when electricity grids were eight hours on, eight hours off, as is usual for the small Palestinian territory.

The Gaza Strip was left almost entirely without power during a number of days in April due to maintenance work on power lines from both Israel and Egypt, as well as the ongoing tax disputes on fuel for the enclave’s near-defunct power station.

The ongoing dispute falls between Gaza’s electricity company and the West Bank-based PA Ministry of Finance over taxes on fuel used by the station.

A decision by the PA revoking a tax exemption on fuel in Gaza sparked protests in the Gaza Strip in April.

During the protest, a senior leader of the left-wing Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine urged Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to “justly treat the Gaza Strip” and added: “We are surprised by the Palestinian government’s decisions, which adds to the suffering of our people in the Gaza Strip who have gone through disasters caused by three Israeli military offensives.”

Later in April, Palestinian officials announced the Gaza Strip will be exempted from paying fuel tax this summer, marking temporary resolution to the electricity crisis.

Even at full capacity, the Egyptian and Israeli electricity grids, together with Gaza's sole power plant, fail to cover the Gaza Strip’s energy needs.

Gaza's power plant has not run at full capacity in years, with Israel's crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.

War has also had taken its toll, as Israeli forces targeted the power plant during a brutal offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2014, completely knocking it out of commission. A fresh round of Israeli airstrikes continued for the fourth consecutive day Saturday, further putting pressure on the enclave’s vulnerable population.

The UN has warned that the Gaza Strip could become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel's blockade.

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