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PA official blames Hamas for 'obstructing' solution to Gaza electricity crisis

June 5, 2017 11:45 P.M. (Updated: June 5, 2017 11:45 P.M.)
Palestinian electricity company workers drag a power line destroyed following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip in August 2014. (AFP/Said Khatib, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An official of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA) blamed the ongoing electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip on Hamas, the de facto ruling party in the besieged coastal enclave, in an interview with official Palestinian Authority (PA) news agency Wafa on Monday.

Acting PENRA chairman Zafer Milhem told Wafa that the PA had a plan ready to solve the electricity crisis, but that Hamas was “obstructing” it by not transferring electricity payments to the PA.

“We have a ready plan to increase capacity of electricity coming from Israel by about 240 megawatts and to extend a pipeline to feed Gaza’s power plant with gas instead of heavy fuel, in addition to expand the grid lines with Egypt at a later stage,” Milhem said.

“We have reached an agreement with the Israelis on this and everything was ready,” he added. “But they asked for guarantees for payment. The government will not give such guarantees. The electricity distribution company in Gaza is the one supposed to give these guarantees and not the government.”

In May,  Israel announced that was planning on reducing its electricity supply to Gaza at the request of the PA, which foots Gaza’s 40 million shekel ($11.19) monthly bill from Israel.

“We will not tolerate the continuation of the status quo, let alone add further burdens,” Milhem said. “We will not take any steps without clear commitment that would enable the (PA) government to do its work and to transfer the funds to the treasury.”

Milhem rejected statements by the Gaza Strip's power authority saying that it had met all of the PA’s stipulations to end the electricity crisis, but that the governing body in the occupied West Bank had yet to respond.

The stipulations reported included that Gaza’s electricity company more rigorously collect bills in the impoverished coastal territory, as well as appoint a nonpartisan committee to monitor its performance and work in conjunction with the PA power authority to operate the electricity sector in Gaza. The Gaza power authority said it had accepted all the aforementioned conditions in exchange for the PA exempting the fuel used to run Gaza’s only power plant from taxes.

Milhem rejected the power authority's proposal as imposing “additional financial burdens on the (PA) government without any commitment from the energy authority in Gaza to transfer the money that would cover costs.”

Milhem said that a solution to the severe electricity woes in Gaza could not be achieved without political reconciliation and the achievement of a unity government across the occupied Palestinian territory, some ten years into a bitter feud between Hamas and Fatah, the ruling party of the PA, shortly after Hamas’ 2006 victory in general elections held in the Gaza Strip.

Critics have said the PA has attempted to use the electricity crisis to exert pressure on the Hamas government to release control of the small Palestinian territory.

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

The power plant, which provides Gaza with 30 percent of its electricity, had not run at full capacity in years, with Israel's crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.

It ultimately shut down in April after running out of fuel provided by Qatar and Turkey, with Gaza’s electricity officials claiming that they have been unable to purchase electricity from the PA owing to the taxes levied on fuel entering the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the power lines from Egypt that supply electricity to the southern Gaza Strip are often out of operation due to technical issues, leaving Israeli power lines, which typically provide Gaza with about 60 percent of its electricity, as the only reliable power source feeding the impoverished territory.

The enclave's severe electricity shortages over the years have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned in May that "we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open" should Israel effectively reduce Gaza’s power supply at the behest of the PA.

Noting that the majority of Gaza residents have been left with some four hours of electricity a day since April, Mladenov emphasized that “if implemented, this decision will further reduce electricity supply to Gaza by some 30 percent, plunging its population into a spiral of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The price will be paid by poor Palestinians, by women and children, by people already traumatized by conflict, who have been held hostage for a decade now. They are the ones who will not have access to electricity, to water, to health services and sanitation,” Mladenov said.

The UN warned in 2015 that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel's blockade.
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