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Palestinians protest dire electricity crisis in Gaza amid 12-hour blackouts

Jan. 9, 2017 5:14 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 9, 2017 9:29 P.M.)
Protesters at a demonstration organized by the Islamic Jihad hold a banner that reads: "No to power cuts in Gaza Strip"
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Palestinians in the Gaza Strip took to the streets on Sunday and Monday to protest an ever-worsening electricity crisis in the besieged coastal enclave, where people have had to cope with only three hours of power in between 12-hour-long blackouts.

The new schedule was imposed after two generators of Gaza’s sole power plant stopped operating on Friday due to severe fuel shortages.

Days later on Monday, Gaza’s electricity company announced that the Egyptian electricity lines feeding the Rafah governorate in the southern Gaza Strip were damaged and had also stopped operating.

Abdullah al-Najili, the head of media and public relations department for the electricity company in Rafah, said that due to lack of electricity supply and damage to the electricity lines, the company has begun operating under an emergency contingency plan.

While the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip on Sunday raised hopes for some relief from the power shortages, the deepening electricity crisis has sparked protests in recent days, amid an already dire situation under a crippling military blockade by Israel.

Scores of outraged citizens launched a demonstration in al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on Sunday night. Witnesses told Ma’an that protesters marched through the streets of the camp in a spontaneous protest, demanding an end to the electricity crisis that has been ongoing for years.

The Islamic Jihad movement also organized a march in Gaza on Monday, affirming that they were exerting major efforts with “decision makers” to resolve the crisis.

Movement leader Khalid al-Batsh said that the Islamic Jihad, along with other Palestinian factions, was also working towards creating job opportunities, easing the Gaza Strip’s debilitating unemployment, and opening crossings, in addition to attempts to solve the electricity problem.

Al-Batsh called on Palestinian factions not to use the electricity crisis as a political tool, saying that political issues must not stand in the way of solving humanitarian and social crises.

He added that it “made no sense” that the Gaza Strip should be plunged into darkness while “Arab fuel is lightning Western countries and the United States.”
The Islamic Jihad's Khalid al-Batsh addressed demonstrators
However, Yousif al-Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) which governs the occupied West Bank, blamed the current situation on Hamas’ control over Gaza Strip and the besieged enclave's electricity company and power authority.

Al-Mahmoud said in a statement that the PA government had been obstructed from conducting numerous projects, particularly projects aiming to increase power supply, such as the construction of a new gas line for the electricity company.

He insisted that “despite all obstacles,” the PA was making efforts to resolve the electricity crisis, highlighting that the PA recently issued an order to exempt fuel from being taxed.

He also noted that the PA paid for some 70 to 80 million shekels (approximately $18-20 million) a month for electricity supplied to southern governorates in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian NGOs' Network (PNGO) meanwhile warned of the dangerous consequences of continuous electricity crises. The network said in statement that numerous sectors, in particular healthcare and sewage systems, were greatly suffering as a result of the blackouts.

PNGO noted that many families lived in caravans with no alternative means to obtain electricity for light and heat in the cold winter weather.

The group stressed in its statement that it was the “ethical and legal responsibility of authorities in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank to end the crisis and spare Palestinian people from going through more suffering.”

The besieged Gaza Strip has been suffering for years from a serious power crisis, which intensifies in the winter when families have to make do with only a few hours of power a day.

Even at full capacity, Egyptian and Israeli electricity grids, together with Gaza's sole power plant, fail to cover the Gaza Strip’s energy needs --Gaza’s usual electricity schedule alternates eight hours of power followed by eight hours without.

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

The enclave's severe electricity shortages over the years have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory, which was placed under an Israeli military siege in 2007 following Hamas' victory in the general elections and subsequent takeover of the government.

The nearly decade-long siege has severely crippled the economy and further isolated the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian territory, entrenching political rivalries with the PA government in the West Bank.
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