Fuel imported from Egypt averts full collapse in Gaza Strip

A million liters of fuel provided by Egyp is set to enter the besieged Gaza Strip on Saturday via the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt in order to assist the territory with a crippling electricity crisis, in the latest of a number of fuel shipments provided by Egyptian authorities.

Israeli authorities announced plans to make drastic power cuts to the besieged territory last month, upon request of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank, which foots Gaza’s monthly electricity bill from Israel, by subtracting from taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the PA.

According to reports on Thursday, Israeli authorities had reduced electricity supply to Gaza by 60 percent. However, earlier reports had noted that Israel approved only a 40 percent reduction in fuel supply to the territory.

Egyptian fuel eases Gaza’s power crisis

Khalil Shaqfa, head of the Gaza Strip Petroleum Committee, told Ma’an that as a result of talks between Hamas, the de facto leaders in Gaza, and Egyptian authorities, Egypt would provide fuel to be used by private gas stations and the coastal enclave’s sole power plant, which shut down in April when Gaza’s electricity officials said they could not afford a PA-imposed tax on diesel that doubled the price of operating the plant.

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

This left the Israeli power lines as the only reliable power source feeding the impoverished territory, since the power lines from Egypt that supply electricity to southern Gaza are often out of operation due to technical issues.

According to Shafqa, 700,000 liters of diesel were supplied to private stations in Gaza to be sold to locals for 4.37 shekels ($1.23), whereas a liter of Israeli diesel is sold for 5.37 shekels. He said locals will make their own choice about which fuel they would like to purchase.

Shafqa noted that while Egyptian fuel is continuing to be imported into the territory, along with the reduced Israeli fuel, it was not a substitute for the Israeli fuel on which Palestinians in Gaza depend.

Shafqa did not mention how long the Egyptian fuel is expected to be imported into the territory, and whether this was a long-term agreement or just temporary.

Unlikely alliances amid deepening tensions between Hamas and PA

The PA had reportedly attempted to prevent the Egyptian fuel shipment from reaching Gaza’s power plant, and threatened punitive measures, including that the PA would rescind its monthly payment to the power plant if it imported the Egyptian fuel, forcing Hamas to obtain a court order that forced the power plant to accept the fuel shipment.

Other reports emerged that the fuel shipment came as a result of recent talks between Hamas and discharged Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan, President Mahmoud Abbas’ political rival.

Dahlan, who while residing in exile in Abu Dhabi continues to hold political clout in the region, had reportedly persuaded the Egyptian government to send the fuel to the besieged territory.

Dahlan, being a fierce former opponent of Hamas’ rule in Gaza following its success in the 2006 elections that threw Fatah and Hamas in a protracted internal conflict, seemed like an unlikely political ally for Hamas.

Nevertheless, Dahlan and the Hamas movement had initiated a series of talks, which analysts have said represents Dahlan and Hamas’ mutual rejection of the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Abbas in the occupied West Bank.

Although the PA has said its decision to cut funds for electricity was because Hamas was failing to reimburse the Ramallah-based government, it is widely believed among Palestinians and international critics that the Fatah-led PA is actually trying to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of the besieged coastal enclave and hand over the territory to the PA.

In another turn of events, Israel’s right-wing Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman denounced Abbas’ decision to cut the PA’s funding of Israeli fuel to the Gaza Strip, and accused Abbas of attempting to influence Hamas to go to war with Israel by deliberately exacerbating the crisis in the besieged territory.

“Abbas is going to increase cuts and soon stop the payment of salaries in Gaza and the transfer of fuel to the strip as a two-pronged strategy: Hurt Hamas and drag it to war with Israel,” he reportedly said.

Israel obligated to ensure fuel supply to Gaza

Gaza, which marked its 10th year under an Israeli-enforced blockade last week, has struggled for years with power shortages due to limited fuel access and degraded infrastructure.

Egypt, which borders Gaza in the south, has also upheld the blockade following President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2013, subsequently closing the Rafah crossing to Palestinians.

Many Gazans are prevented from leaving or entering the besieged coastal enclave, sometimes for months at a time, as Egyptian authorities only periodically open the Rafah crossing, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.

Head of the radiology department for Gaza’s public hospitals Ibrahim Abbas said last week that diagnostic radiology equipment that has been provided over the last ten years — at an estimated worth of $10 million — would soon fall into disrepair due to their sensitivity to blackouts — compounded by another financial crisis in the medical center as a result of the PA slashing funds for hospital equipment and medication.

“The humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be a wake-up call for everyone able to solve the problem,” Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) Executive Director Ran Goldstein had said.

“Gaza’s children have become hostages in the political game played by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel. The change must be dramatic and immediate — providing funds, medicines, and electric power, opening Gaza to the outside world and offering urgent humanitarian assistance,” Goldstein added.

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinians refugees, highlighted in a statement Wednesday that before the current crisis, Gaza was already receiving less than half the 450-500 megawatts needed in the coastal enclave.

Gunness noted that Gaza’s Health Ministry has warned that 40 operating rooms and 11 gynecology operating rooms that conduct about 250 surgeries daily in Gaza are now at risk.

Last week, Israeli rights group Gisha stated that the group, along with 15 other civil society organizations, sent a letter to Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding that the Israeli government overturn its decision to reduce fuel to Gaza.

According to the group, the Israeli Supreme Court had issued a judgement in 2008, stating that “years of Israeli military rule in the area had created an all but total dependence of Gaza on electricity supplied by Israel,” and determined that Israel had a responsibility to allow the imports of goods to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Gaza.

However, Israel continued to only supply the besieged enclave with 120 megawatts, despite a rising population and a demand for electricity that has doubled since the court ruling, Gisha pointed out.

In addition, despite the growing fuel crisis, Israel has continued to restrict the entrance of most equipment needed by Palestinians in Gaza to assuage the power shortages, such as “generators and their spare parts, batteries, and uninterrupted power supply components,” owing to Israeli consideration of these items as having a “dual-use,” Gisha reported, meaning they can be used both for civilian and military uses.

“Israel cannot claim to be only a service provider, responding neutrally to a client’s request. Given its extensive control over life in the Strip, Israel is responsible for enabling normal life for its residents, as an occupying force in the Strip,” the letter stated.

The letter said that Israel was “obligated to find solutions” to the crisis and to continue providing fuel to Gaza “at existing capacity,” adding that Israeli authorities must “take active steps toward increasing supply to allow residents, whose taxes are collected by Israel, access to acceptable living conditions.”