A new dispute between Hamas and Fatah has drastically reduced production at the Gaza Strip's only power plant, exacerbating its chronic electricity shortage, officials said yesterday.

The current crisis emerged when the European Union, one of the biggest donors to the Palestinian Authority, decided to scale back aid, including payment of fuel for the power plant. The EU spent 268 million euros on fuel for the plant over three and a half years, EU officials said.

The decision, made in consultation with the Palestinian Authority, meant the West Bank government had to find another way of paying for the fuel. The plant provides electricity to about 25% of Gaza. The rest gets power from Egypt and Israel.

The PA wants Hamas to contribute since it collects money from residents for electricity, said Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Abbas government.

Since the donors stopped paying, Hamas needs to pay the money that it collects from the people, he said. He declined to say how much money the authority was seeking from Hamas.

Hamas demanded that the EU continue to foot the bill.

"Cutting off fuel ... is a crime against humanity because the victims of this crime will be children and the elderly and the sick," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.

Since the EU stopped payments three months ago, PA President Mahmoud Abbas' government has paid for only some of the required fuel, forcing the power plant to run below capacity, officials said.

The plant was initially preparing to shut down by today, but fuel shipments resumed yesterday morning after the West Bank government made a payment. Engineers said the plant is running on one turbine instead of three.

Gaza has suffered from power shortages for nearly four years, since Israel first sealed the borders of the Strip in response to the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Since then, engineers have been unable to bring in spare parts or repair the overloaded system.

The Abbas administration continues to shoulder large sums for Gaza, using foreign aid to cover its electricity bills and salaries of former civil servants.