Hamas Slams Cairo Over Power Crisis

March 3, 2012  

Ismail Haniyeh blamed Egypt on Friday for causing a power crisis that has triggered lengthy blackouts in Hamas-run Gaza.

The outages started in mid-February, leaving households with just six hours of electricity a day, and provoking widespread criticism of Hamas in the coastal enclave.

Hamas has arrested its most vocal local critics amid the power crisis for fomenting division and “threatening the security of the authority.”

Looking to deflect the anger, Haniyeh told supporters Egypt controlled the flow of fuel into Gaza, and insinuated Cairo should have done more to help following the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

“Is it reasonable that Gaza remains without electricity a year after the revolution in Egypt?” Haniyeh asked in a weekly address.

“Is it reasonable that Gaza remains blockaded a year after the dismissal of the tyrant (Mubarak) regime?” he said, referring to Israel’s arms embargo on Hamas in Gaza.

Israel’s arms 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.

Prior to the 2007 Hamas-takeover Israel provided 120kw of electricity – and fuel for the local generator to produce 70kw of electricity – at market rates, which Hamas officials called “excessive.”

However, UN agency for humanitarian affairs (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 occurring.

“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.

“There is also a security problem. If someone fired a bullet three kilometers away from Kerem Shalom, the Israelis would close the crossing and prevent the entry of fuel,” Haniyeh said.

Hamas continues to call for the destruction of Israel and armed groups in the enclave regularly fire missiles at Israel from Gaza.

However, Israel only very rarely closes the Kerem Shalom crossing. Analysts say the real problem is that Hamas doesn’t want to pay market rates – $1 per liter – which is higher than the cost of smuggled diesel.

Hamas also used to tax the oil that came in from the tunnels, but goods entering Gaza via Israel are taxed by its rival, the Palestinian Authority (PA), thereby reducing Hamas revenues.

Haniyeh also threatened to seek free fuel supplies from Iran or Morocco if Egypt did not meet his terms.

There was no immediate response from Cairo, which has negotiated a three-stage energy plan for Gaza with Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah.

Hamas, which runs Gaza, was consulted during the Cairo-Ramallah talks, but was incensed it was not given the leading role opposite Egyptian officials at the negotiating table.

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