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Gaza Goes Dark – Is Egypt to Blame?

Gaza's sole power plant went dark after fuel ran out on Tuesday. This time, Hamas and human rights officials say Egypt is responsible.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 2/14/2012, 9:05 PM

Hamas announced the sole power plant in Gaza went dark after it ran out of diesel on Tuesday.

"The Gaza power plant has completely stopped working because of the shortage of fuel entering the Gaza Strip, and the depletion of diesel it needs to work," said Ahmad Abu al-Amrin, an official from Gaza's energy authority.

He called on Egypt "to assume its historical responsibility in supporting the resistance of the Palestinian people by ensuring they had all the necessary fuel to operate the plant".

According to the UN agency for humanitarian affairs (OCHA), the amount of fuel entering Gaza through the tunnels from Egypt has dropped by half over the last fortnight. 

"Only half of the amount of fuel that entered in the previous weeks has been coming into Gaza for the past two weeks," OCHA said in its weekly report.

"Unconfirmed reports indicate that the reason for this sharp decline is an increase in fuel prices triggered by movement restrictions imposed by the Egyptian police on fuel cargoes travelling to Rafah," OCHA officials added.

Hamas' chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, also called on Cairo to "immediately intervene and meet all the electricity needs of Gaza in a permanent way," warning that the territory was facing a "real humanitarian crisis".

Hamas has sought to blame Israel for the fuel shortage due to the embargo it imposed on Gaza following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in 2006.

Israel's embargo on Gaza, which the UN Palmer Report concluded was both legitimate and lawful as a means of protecting its citizens, was tightened after Hamas seized Gaza in a bloody 2007 putsch.

Further complicating the situation is the lack of relations and banking arrangements between Israel and Hamas, which continues to seek the Jewish state's destruction.

However, OCHA officials say Gaza has not relied on gas imports from Israel for some time and that Egypt, which refuses to open the Rafiah crossing, is where the shortage is occuring.

"Palestinians gradually developed tunnel infrastructure allowing the transfer of large quantities of fuel into Gaza, at a cheaper price, which resulted in an almost complete halt in the purchase from Israel," OCHA said.

Some observers, who note fuel is one of the items that flows from Israel to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, have suggested Hamas is manufacturing a crisis as a means of pressuring Egypt to open the Rafiah crossing.

The IDF oversees the shipment of 6,000 tons of food, fuel, merchandise and building material to Gaza every day and notes the Kerem Shalom crossing is never at full capacity due to all aid requests being met.

In 2011, Gaza residents exported surplus aid supplies to Somalia as a part of a Ramadan charity drive. Local residents have openly complained they have too much aid and not enough economy.

However, the IDF has also launched a program to aid Gaza farmers and manufacturers in exporting their goods to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. 

The year's first shipment of 30 tons of produce left Gaza for Jordan on February 5. Furniture exports from Gaza, under Israeli guidance, began last year.