Gaza asks Egypt for fuel to keep lights on

22 Jun

People in Gaza are used to power cuts — but things have now got much worse [THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images]

By Gregg Carlstrom, The Times, Gaza City, 22 June 2017

In the paediatric wing of a Gaza hospital where nine young children are undergoing dialysis, the power suddenly cuts out. Alarms blare and the machines flash red warning lights. Yet the children do not flinch. One boy does not even wake from his nap.

Gazans are used to power cuts — but not like these. Until this week Gaza had about 240 megawatts of electricity, half what is needed to meet its fast-growing demand. About 120 megawatts of that was supplied by Israel and paid for by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

In April the PA decided to reduce its electricity payments by 40 per cent. Last week Israel agreed to lower the supply by the same amount — even after its top generals warned that it would deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It started the cuts on Monday.

“We do this four hours a day, four days a week,” Umm Yahya, whose son was hooked up to one of the machines, said. “We’re used to it.” The hospital has a generator and the room soon buzzed back to life — at least this time.

Nabil Iyad, one of the doctors, said: “Sometimes there’s no fuel to run the dialysis machine so we have to close the department and send all our patients elsewhere. Any time there are interruptions it damages the equipment.”

 

Ten years after the militant group Hamas took power, Gaza’s population of nearly two million is no stranger to hardship. Inhabitants have lurched from one economic crisis to another, caused by an Israeli and Egyptian military blockade and political infighting with Fatah, the secular party that controls the West Bank.

The situation feels particularly bleak this summer, though. The cuts will leave most Gazans with only two and a half hours of electricity at a time, followed by 12-hour blackouts. The temperature is hovering around 30C, days before Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan. In a busy Gaza City market, housewives shopping for the feast all had noticeably light shopping bags. With their refrigerators nearly useless, food spoils quickly.

“We’re in the middle of Ramadan, with Eid coming up, and we have to impose these blackouts on people,” Mohammed Thabet, an electric company spokesman, said.

The PA also suspended shipments of medicine and baby formula to Gaza, hurting its already grim health system. Several drugs, including cancer treatments, are unavailable. Hospitals have run out of an intravenous tube used for patients with acute kidney failure. They now have to refer those patients to hospitals outside the strip, meaning they have to wait at home until they receive a travel permit from the Israeli army.

PA officials have not explained these moves but analysts see them as a sign of the frustration with Hamas felt by Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president. The group has turned for help to an unlikely source: Mohammad Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief who led a brutal campaign against Hamas more than ten years ago. Mr Dahlan, who now lives in Abu Dhabi, met leaders of Hamas in Cairo last week and brokered a deal that would mean Egypt shipping tens of thousands of litres of fuel to Gaza in the coming days. It would be used to increase production at Gaza’s sole power plant, where only two of four turbines are online.

The shipments could be interrupted, however, by politics or the tenuous security situation on Sinai, where the Egyptian army is fighting a branch of Islamic State. “Our only reliable source of electricity is Israel,” Mr Thabet said.

A deal with Mr Dahlan would only deepen the crisis with Ramallah, where Mr Abbas views the exiled strongman as his greatest rival. He is already working to halt the shipments from Egypt.

Along with the electricity and medicine, Mr Abbas has also cut the salaries of 58,000 Gaza-based employees on the PA’s payroll. Dr Iyad is one of them; his pay packet has halved since April. “You can’t believe a hospital runs like this,” he said. “And then I go to the bank to collect my salary, and I feel that again.”

 

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