GAZA CITY (AFP) – The Gaza Strip reeled from power outages on Sunday as Israel continued to block fuel supplies from entering the impoverished territory run by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
For the third consecutive day, border crossings of the coastal strip where most of the 1.5 million residents depend on aid remained shut after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered the move amid a sharp escalation of violence between the army and the Islamists running the coastal strip.
Amid dwindling fuel supplies, Gaza’s sole power plant that provides up to a third of the coastal strip’s electricity, shut down one of its two turbines early on Sunday and was due to turn off the second one by the end of the day, officials said.
“This morning we turned off one of the two turbines that remained working,” station director Rafiq Mliha told AFP. “If we don’t receive fuel we will have to stop the last turbine this evening, shutting the plant down completely.”
“Such a stop in production will have grave consequences for hospitals and water cleaning stations,” he said.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) warned that a shutdown of the station, which provides much of Gaza City’s electricity, would have “a devastating impact on the lives of women, children and civilians generally in Gaza.”
“Depriving people of such basics as water is tantamount to depriving them of human dignity,” UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said. “It is difficult to understand the logic of making hundreds of thousands of people suffer quite needlessly.”
With residents having flocked to stock up fuel supplies after the closure was announced late Thursday, many of the petrol stations were empty on Sunday.
At a station in the Zeitun neighbourhood on the edge of Gaza city, a handful of taxi-drivers milled around, yelling “there’s no fuel” to the occassional car which pulled up.
Barak ordered the crossings into Gaza closed late Thursday, saying the move was aimed at pressuring militants inside to stop firing rockets and mortars into Israel and that it would be re-assessed after several days.
The violence between the army and Gaza militants sharply escalated since Tuesday, when an Israeli operation killed 19 Palestinians, mostly gunmen, in the deadliest single day in Gaza in more than a year.
Since then, Israeli raids have killed 36 people, most of them militants, and gunmen have launched some 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, lightly wounding at least 10 people.
Although most of the people killed by Israeli troops in Gaza have been gunmen, civilians including women and children have also been increasingly caught in the crossfire.
The escalation — the sharpest since before Hamas violently seized control of Gaza seven months ago — has sparked international concern and warnings that it may derail the recently revived peace talks between the two sides.
On Saturday Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad called for “international protection” for Gaza residents and criticised anew the firing of rockets into Israel which he said “only brought misforture… for our people.”
“The international community must intervene to stop the Israeli aggression and offer international protection to our people who are facing the tyranny of occupation,” Fayyad said.
Hamas on Saturday urged Egypt to open the Rafah terminal — Gaza’s only crossing that bypasses Israel — to allow the transport of basic goods.