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Gaza electricity protests continue as PA, Hamas trade heated accusations

Jan. 17, 2017 5:58 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 17, 2017 8:24 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) organized a protest on Monday evening demanding a solution “once and for all” to the Gaza electricity crisis, as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) exchanged more barbs blaming one another for the severe power shortages in the blockaded coastal enclave.

The majority of the Gaza Strip received only three hours of power a day in between 12-hour blackouts for more than a week earlier this month, with recent Qatari aid helping to bring back the Palestinian territory to its usual schedule of eight hours of electricity followed by eight hours without.

"This protest comes to affirm that our people have the right to live in dignity and possess all amenities of life, especially electricity 24 hours a day, especially in the winter given the very cold weather," a DFLP leader, Abd al-Bari al-Talla, told the demonstrators in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Al-Talla notably urged the Gaza electricity company to "stop messing with citizens' lives and burdening the Palestinian economy with huge losses," calling on the organization to start collecting bills from government institutions, security services, civil organizations, companies, and private universities instead of complaining about a lack of revenue.

He also called on the PA to completely exempt the Gaza Strip’s only power plant from paying fuel taxes, as well as to take steps to improve the electricity network in the small Palestinian territory and to rely more on natural gas.

Fatah and Hamas, the respective ruling parties in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, have accused one another of bearing the blame for the situation in Gaza.

In a government meeting on Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the responsibility for the crisis fell on Hamas and Gaza’s electricity company for mishandling the situation.

"When everything is set straight, we will be ready to exert as many efforts as we can to provide electricity,” Abbas said. “But before that, they have to face the people and the people must know that they are to take the blame, and that they messed with their people's fate."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said that Abbas’ remarks proved that the Palestinian president "plays a role in creating the electricity crisis, constraining the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and inciting against Hamas."

Abbas, Barhum added, "exposes his obvious intentions to impede the efforts exerted by everyone to bring the crisis and the suffering of Gaza residents to an end."

On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah chastised Hamas, saying that "in order to bring the electricity crisis in Gaza to an end once and for all, Hamas' security must show some responsibility and allow the consensus government to take charge of all responsibilities in the Gaza Strip."

Hamdallah said that more than a third of the PA’s budget deficit in 2016 could be attributed to expenses in the infrastructure sectors in Gaza, estimating that the West Bank-based government had spent 91 million shekels ($23.9 million) on Gaza’s electricity network that year.

"It is unbelievable that the consensus government covers all the expenses of all vital sectors while only Hamas runs the Gaza Strip," Hamdallah said. "Frankly speaking, there is a de facto government in Gaza imposing taxes and controlling every aspect of life."

Senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan responded to Hamdallah’s accusations on Monday evening, saying that the movement would be ready to pass on the control of all ministries and institutions in the Gaza Strip to the PA if the latter took on all of its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip.

Radwan accused Hamdallah of "turning all the facts upside down to mislead public opinion," claiming that the PA made $100 million each month on taxes for diesel and other basic commodities entering the Gaza Strip.

Fatah and Hamas have been embroiled in conflict since Hamas' election victory in 2006 elections in the Gaza Strip, which erupted into a violent conflict between the two movements as both attempted to consolidate control over the territory.

Despite numerous attempts at reconciling the groups, Palestinian leadership has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises of reconciliation and holding of long-overdue elections, as both movements have frequently blamed each other for numerous political failures.
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