Gaza - AFP - March 23, 2012
A Palestinian security officers of Hamas checks a tanker carrying oil in Rafah town after crossing the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on March 23, 2012. Photo by AFP
Text size
related tags

Police in Hamas-ruled Gaza have detained dozens of taxi drivers for allegedly spreading "rumors" about the territory's worst power crisis in years, officials said Monday.

The detentions, which began over the weekend, signaled that the Islamic
militant Hamas is increasingly concerned about the political fallout from
crippling shortages of fuel and electricity.

Authorities did not explain what got the drivers in trouble, beyond saying
the "rumors" had to do with the energy crisis.

However, residents say there's growing talk among Gazans that Hamas is
keeping separate supplies of fuel for its government and loyalists, a claim
Hamas denies.

At the root of the two-month-old crisis is a standoff between Hamas and
neighboring Egypt over the delivery and payment for fuel.

Fuel smuggled from Egypt through tunnels under the border used to be the
main source of energy for Gaza, including the territory's only power station
that provides 60 percent of the electricity.

Hamas now wants Egypt to deliver fuel to Gaza through a passage above
ground, trying to establish a precedent Hamas hopes could evolve into a
full-fledged trade route with Egypt.

Egypt is fearful such a link would be seen as absolving Israel, Gaza's
longtime occupier, of its responsibility for territory. Despite a 2005
withdrawal from Gaza, Israel continues to control access by air, land and sea.

Egypt wants to route any future fuel shipments through Israel and insists at
selling it at international prices. Hamas is searching for fuel subsidies from
Arab countries.

A solution to the standoff is not in sight. As a result of the shortages,
Gaza's power station has been offline most of the time since Feb. 10, leading
to rolling 18-hour-a-day blackouts.

The Health Ministry said fuel supplies for hospital generators will only
last until Thursday. Working hours in outpatient clinics have been reduced, 60 percent of ambulances are grounded and non-emergency surgeries have been rescheduled, the ministry said.

Patients in intensive care at Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest health
facility, have less reason for worry. About a month ago, solar panels donated
by an Italian group were installed on the roof, providing electricity for
machines attached to five of the 15 beds in the ICU, hospital officials said.