Palestinian Leaders Feud Over Power Cuts as Crisis Deepens

  • Hamas warns Gaza ‘can explode’ with conditions deteriorating
  • Palestinian Authority threatens new measures to pressure Hamas

Severe power cuts in the Gaza Strip are forcing a showdown between the two main Palestinian political groups, as the World Bank warns of a looming “humanitarian crisis” in the impoverished territory.

Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants have been left with only a few hours of electricity a day in recent weeks, with the enclave’s ruler Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority blaming each other as tensions escalate. Hamas said Thursday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should drop his plan to stop paying for Gaza’s electricity, warning it could trigger violence.

“Gaza is a barrel of gunpowder that can explode at any minute in the face of Abbas and the Israeli occupation,” Khalil al-Hayyah, deputy chairman of the Hamas movement, said in an email.

While Abbas and his secular Fatah party were thrown out of Gaza in 2007 by militiamen loyal to the Islamist Hamas, the Palestinian Authority still provides power, water and social services for the coastal enclave -- with much of the bill paid to Israel with money from international donors.

Efforts by Hamas and Fatah to heal the schism and unite the two territories have repeatedly failed and Abbas, who is due to visit U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House May 3, has promised “unprecedented measures” to pressure Hamas to let the Palestinian Authority re-establish control.

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Before he engages in peace efforts, Trump is going to ask Abbas “whether he represents just the West Bank, or both the West Bank and Gaza,” said Jehad Harb, a researcher at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. “Abbas needs to make difficult decisions and take some tough measures if he wants to recover control of Gaza.”

Halting Payment

The Palestinian Authority has informed Israel it will “stop paying for the electricity it supplies to Gaza immediately,” according to a statement issued Thursday by Major-General Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel supplies the Gaza Strip with about 30 percent of its required electricity at an estimated cost of 40 million shekels ($11 million) a month, which Israel deducts from Palestinian Authority taxes, according to the statement.

The Palestinian Authority has also cut Gaza civil servants’ salaries by 30 percent, while leaving their West Bank counterparts’ untouched. Thousands of employees and former police and security officers and their families have demonstrated in Gaza City over the decision.

The World Bank issued a report warning about the impact of the power cuts on Gaza, and appealed to nations to assist the Palestinian economy ahead of a donor conference next week. It also called on Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinians’ external trade and open access to Gaza.

In both Gaza and the West Bank on Thursday, Palestinians closed stores and demonstrated in solidarity with prisoners in Israeli jails holding a hunger strike. More than 1,000 Palestinian inmates refused food for an eleventh day to demand better prison conditions and more contact with their families.

— With assistance by Saud Abu Ramadan, and Fadwa Hodali

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