HomeNewsboxChallenging Hamas, Palestinian Authority Cuts Electricity Payments for Gaza

Challenging Hamas, Palestinian Authority Cuts Electricity Payments for Gaza

The Israeli agency that liaises with the Palestinians on civilian affairs, known as Cogat (an acronym for Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), said Israel supplies Gaza with 30 percent of its total electricity needs at a monthly cost of about $11 million.

Israel did not immediately cut off the supply, apparently hoping that international donors would step in and pay. The United Nations said on Thursday that it had allocated $500,000 for the purchase of emergency fuel for hospitals.

“This is a very regrettable decision on the part of the Palestinian Authority,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. “We are already facing a catastrophic situation regarding electricity.”

Instead of cutting direct Palestinian Authority subsidies to Gaza, for health or education, Mr. Abusada said, Mr. Abbas chose to punish Hamas in a way that put the onus on Israel. If Israel does cut electricity to Gaza, Mr. Abusada said, “the Palestinians will be blaming Israel.”

Hamas, the Islamic militant group, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, dealing Mr. Abbas and his mainstream Fatah party a humiliating blow. A year later, amid factional fighting, Hamas routed Fatah forces in Gaza and seized full control.

“If Abbas had resorted to such a decision in the first year,” Mr. Abusada said, “he may have avoided it going on for 10 years.”

Tensions between the rival parties have been rising recently. Hamas appointed an administrative committee for Gaza, a de facto local government, last month. Fatah then sent a stark message to Hamas: Reconcile and allow the Palestinian Authority to assume control in Gaza, or manage alone.

“Part of this is Abbas showing he is in control and he is the boss,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, an independent research institute in East Jerusalem. “The message to Hamas is: If you want to govern it, take it.”

In a first step, the authority cut by 30 percent the salaries it pays to tens of thousands of its employees in Gaza who do not work, but have remained on the payroll. Hamas, meanwhile, refuses to buy fuel from the authority for the Gaza power station because of a dispute over taxation. It shut down two weeks ago, after exhausting its fuel reserves.

At a news conference at the Shifa hospital in Gaza this week, Marwan Abu Rass, a Hamas parliamentarian, called Mr. Abbas a traitor and said he should be publicly hanged. Last week, protesters in the southern Gaza Strip burned pictures of Mr. Abbas and pasted his image onto the face of a donkey.

At the same time, Mr. Abbas is being challenged by a mass hunger strike of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli prisons, now in its 11th day and led by one of his main rivals within Fatah. Businesses and schools throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank were shuttered on Thursday in solidarity with the prisoners and scores of Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah.

“Water and salt in the Israeli prisons, and stones and Molotov cocktails in the Palestinian streets until our prisoners are freed,” proclaimed one of the demonstrators, a 32-year-old mechanic from the nearby Jalazoun refugee camp.

Electricity shortages have also led to unrest in Gaza. Thousands protested in January when electricity was scarce during a cold winter. Now the electricity cuts are affecting the water supply in high-rise buildings because of the lack of power for pumps, and raw or poorly treated sewage is flowing into the sea.

“Hamas and Fatah are fighting with each other like kids and we are sitting in our homes with no electricity,” Fatima Hmeid, 39, a mother of nine, said on Thursday. “What is our crime?”

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