Gaza Floods, Thousands Evacuated - but Get Reprieve From Blackouts

West Bank loses power; Energy Dept. promises to limit Gaza brownouts to 8 hours a day, instead of the usual 16.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Thousands of Gazans were evacuated from their homes over the weekend because of the flooding caused by the storm that covered the Middle East in snow, rain and hail.

But as they take shelter in schools in the north of the Strip, Gazans are learning that the storm clouds have a silver lining. They are being given a three-month reprieve from their daily 16-hour blackouts, which have nothing to do with the storm.

Following indirect negotiations between the Hamas government in Gaza and the Fatah government in the West Bank, Qatar will be donating $10 million to supply the Gaza Strip’s power plant with enough fuel to last three months, starting this week.

The plant providing one-third of the Gaza's electricity has been out of commission for six weeks because the Hamas government has refused to pay the fuel tax of 30 agorot (9 cents) per liter to the government in Ramallah, which buys the fuel from Israel.

With Gaza’s 16-hour blackouts temporarily suspended, the energy department has also promised to limit brownouts to eight hours a day.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Mekorot water utility said it acceded to a request by the Palestinian Authority, via the United Nations, to send four water pumps to Gaza to help control the flooding.

Gaza officials blamed Israel for the flooding, saying it caused Wadi Gaza to overflow and flood residential neighborhoods by opening dams outside the Strip. Palestinian sources said these dams normally keep the water level in Gaza low.

Nehemia Shahaf, the Israeli municipal official responsible for the drainage system in part of the northern Negev, said there was one dam in the area, a one-meter cement structure in the Tze’elim area that directs water to a reservoir in Israeli territory, but that it could not be opened or closed. Shahaf said the water level was so high that the dam couldn’t stop it from reaching Gaza.

Not much of the water goes to the reservoir because most of it seeps into the ground beforehand, Shahaf added.

In the West Bank, several dozen families who live in tents or metal shacks in the southern Hebron Hills, where they have been refused permission to build more permanent housing, were evacuated to nearby Yatta or other towns.

The power was out in most parts of Ramallah, El Bireh and Bethlehem, as well as East Jerusalem. A spokesman for the Palestinian electric company said most of the power failures were caused by Israel, where more than 20,000 households had no power as of Saturday night.

Municipal authorities began plowing the main roads in the West Bank, but no government ministries were open in the West Bank on Sunday. There was no school Sunday in the West Bank or Gaza.

Over the last few years, the Gaza Strip has largely relied on the fuel coming in from Egypt through the cross-border smuggling tunnels under Rafah. The Hamas government prefers to buy fuel from Egypt; not only does it cost less, it fits the philosophy of minimizing reliance on the PA and Israel.

But since Egypt demolished hundreds of smuggling tunnels earlier this year, the Hamas government has become more dependent on the fuel that comes from Israel.The Gaza Strip uses about 120 megawatts of electricity purchased from Israel and about 27 megawatts from Egypt.

Palestinian rescue members evacuating residents using a fishing boat in Gaza City, Saturday. Rescue workers evacuated more than 5,000 Gaza Strip residents, an official said.Credit: AP

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