Israel Reduces Electricity Supply to Hamas-Ruled Gaza

Palestinians walk on a dark street next to a grocery shop lit with battery-powered lamps, during a power cut in Gaza City. Israel reduced power supply to Gaza on Monday, upon the request of Mahmoud Abbas. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

GAZA CITY (AP) - Israel’s national electric company on Monday cut back its electricity shipments to the Gaza Strip. The company confirmed that the Israeli government instructed it to reduce supply to Gaza at the request of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s government.

Abbas recently told Israel he would cut payments for Gaza’s electricity. Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas’s forces a decade ago, and the internationally recognized Palestinian leader is trying to step up pressure on the Islamic terrorist group to cede power.

With Gaza’s small power plant out of commission, and Israel providing a fraction of what the territory needs, residents have been scraping by with about four hours of electricity a day.

Although Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies — and despite Hamas having waged three wars against Israel over the past decade — Israel has continued to provide limited power to Gaza, paid for by the Palestinians, to prevent a humanitarian crisis on its doorstep and out of concern that more instability could lead to renewed fighting. Last week, Hamas warned of renewed violence against Israel if power is cut.

Israel has described Gaza’s power crisis as an internal Palestinian issue, saying it is merely a supplier.

In a statement, the electric company confirmed that it had begun to reduce supplies on Monday and said shipments would be scaled back gradually, “so that the electricity supply will match the financial commitment.”

“The internal deliveries of electricity to consumers inside the Gaza Strip is not the responsibility of the electric company and is done by internal Palestinian authorities in the Gaza Strip,” it said. Israel accuses Hamas of diverting Gaza’s limited electricity for military use and worsening the hardship on its people.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory. Israel says the restrictions are needed to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons.

Abbas has grown increasingly frustrated with repeated failures in reconciliation talks with Hamas and the group’s refusal to cede control of Gaza. In recent months, he has stepped up financial pressure on Hamas.

In April, he reinstated taxes on fuel bound for Gaza’s only power plant, making Hamas unable to afford it. As a result, the small station has stopped working. Gaza now receives its only electricity from Israel, and a small quantity from Egypt.

Abbas has also cut the salaries of tens of thousands of former employees in Gaza, hurting the territory’s already poor economy.

Gaza authorities have warned of an impending health and environmental crisis because of the power shortages. Each day, 31 million gallons of untreated sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea.