Gaza Electricity Supplies Back to Normal: Eight Straight Hours at Most

The electricity crisis worsened in recent weeks as funds lacked for buying fuel to power the power station. Meanwhile, there was an increase in demand during the winter.

Palestinians sit around wood set alight in a fireplace outside their home in Gaza City, Jan. 25, 2016.
Hatem Moussa/AP

Gaza’s electricity authority said Tuesday the power supply in the Strip had returned to the old format eight hours with electricity followed by eight hours without – instead of the three or four hours a day that were the norm for the past month-and-a-half.

The Gaza Interior Ministry, meanwhile, announced that it would release the dozens of protesters detained during demonstrations over the outages that worsened in recent weeks.

The Israel Electric Corporation reported that Gaza’s power station was operating at 75 percent capacity after having operated at 25 percent capacity over the past two weeks. The improvement was achieved after fresh fuel arrived with the help of Qatar.

Still, the authorities said that the power station still needed constant maintenance and that some of the equipment for that purpose was still on the Israeli side of the border.

According to the authorities, normal daily consumption of electricity in Gaza is about 600 megawatts. The electricity lines from Israel supply about 120 megawatts, the lines from Egypt supply about 20 megawatts irregularly and currently the power station was supplying up to 85 megawatts.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has called on Hamas to let the government actually govern Gaza, as he put it, to solve the electricity crisis. In response, Hamas said in a statement it would hand over the ministries to Hamdallah if his government then saw to all the needs of Gaza’s residents.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah at a press conference in Ramallah, January 17, 2017.
Majdi Mohammed / AP

The electricity crisis has become a symbol of the split between the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, and the Hamas movement that controls the Strip. Hamdallah held a press conference in Ramallah to answer the growing criticism during Gaza’s electricity crisis, as tensions between the PA and Hamas increase.

Late on Tuesday, however, Hamas and Fatah said that they had agreed to establish a Palestinian unity government. The parties released their statement from Moscow, where they were holding unity talks since Sunday.

Hamdallah said the Palestinian government in Ramallah had invested over a billion shekels ($262 million) to supply electricity to Gaza, while Hamas was the party in charge of collecting payments for electricity.

“It’s unconscionable that the government is making every effort to supply the needs of the Strip’s residents, while the Hamas movement is in control and in effect runs the Strip,” Hamdallah said.

He said that in recent years Gaza has lacked an effective mechanism for collecting payments for power use, and it was urgent that both the public and private sectors ensured that electricity meters were in good working order.

Hamdallah’s government says Israel and Egypt take tens of millions of shekels annually for the electricity they supply to the Strip, in part from taxes and fees that Israel collects for the PA, and from PA budgets supplied by the Arab League.

Palestinians chant slogans during a demonstration against the chronic power cuts in the Jabalya refugee camp, northern Gaza, January 12, 2017.
Khalil Hamra / AP

The electricity crisis worsened in recent weeks as funds lacked for buying fuel to power the power station. Meanwhile, there was an increase in demand during the winter.

Residents of several refugee camps came out openly against the Hamas authorities, while the movement’s supporters set fire to pictures of Hamdallah and Palestinian President Abbas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused the PA of collaborating with Israel in order to crush his organization.

Amid the criticism, by other Palestinian factions as well as the general public, the Interior Ministry released the protesters who had been detained. They were told that public property should not be damaged, but efforts would be made to honor freedom of expression.

The partial solution to the crisis was made possible after Qatar announced that it would pay $12 million for fuel for the next three months, and Turkey promised to transfer 15,000 tons of fuel to the power station. Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said 590,000 liters of fuel had been transferred to Gaza, making possible power supply for eight consecutive hours.

Gazans who spoke to Haaretz complained about what they called partial solutions, as if it had been factored in that the Strip’s residents had become accustomed to the shortages.

“Just think if in Israel they had to get used to a situation in which every day you get electricity for a maximum of eight to 10 hours, sometimes less,” a Gaza resident said. “What, does time stand still in Gaza? Aren’t we in the 21st century?”