Pressure on Hamas and Islamic Jihad Increases as Power Plant Issues Shutdown Warning

Gaza's power company will cut down the electricity supply from eight hours a day to three due to fuel shortage caused by roadblocks in southern Israel. According to Palestinians, the economic pressure may lead into a 'frontal conflict' with Israel

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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תחנת הכוח ברצועת עזה, בשנה שעברה
Gaza power plant, last year.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Public pressure on militant groups in the Gaza Strip to dial down the tension with Israel is growing due to the closure of border crossings, the worsening economic situation and, most recently, a cutback in the power supply.

On Thursday, Gaza’s power company announced that it was cutting the electricity supply from eight hours a day to just two or three, due to the halting of diesel fuel supply into Gaza following the closing of border crossings with Israel. It also warned that the power plant would shut down completely in another two days if more fuel doesn’t arrive.

The border crossings were closed as a result of closure of Israeli roads near the Gaza borders as a precaution after threats from Islamic Jihad’s to retaliate for Israel’s arrest of one of its senior officials in the West Bank, Bassam al-Saadi, earlier this week.

The power cutbacks are expected to worsen many Gazans’ already dire financial situation as they will now have to pay for generators and fuel to operate them. One government official in Gaza told Haaretz that he will likely have to pay 500 shekels ($150) for privately generated electricity. That, he added, is a quarter of his monthly salary.

A fuel tanker arrives at Gaza's power plant in the central Gaza Strip, in 2017.Credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Moreover, Gazans say, the closure of Israeli roads near the Gaza border has prevented thousands of Gazan laborers from entering Israel, thereby depriving them of income. And all this has happened at a time when prices for staple products have been rising in Gaza.

Samir Zaqout of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights warned that the economic pressure on Islamic Jihad and Hamas “will lead them into a frontal conflict” with Israel.

“As of today, we aren’t feeling any shortages of anything,” he added. “But the longer this continues, the greater the tension will become.”

Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, said in an interview with Radio Al-Shams that his organization isn’t trying to stymie Egypt’s recent efforts to mediate. But he said the groups are awaiting answers about the state of Al-Saadi’s health, as well as about when administrative detainee Khalil Awawda, also of Islamic Jihad, will be released.

Awawda has been on a hunger strike for 145 days, and his health “isn’t good,” Al-Batsh said, adding, “His death would obligate us to respond.”

According to a Prisons Service assessment from last week, the hunger strike has left Awawda mortally ill.

But Islamic Jihad officials also said that any decision, whether on diplomatic or military moves, would be made in coordination with other groups, first and foremost Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Physicians for Human Rights has called for the immediate release of Awawda, who has been held without trial since December. He began his hunger strike shortly after he was detained and initially maintained it for 110 days, but stopped after being told that his detention wouldn’t be extended beyond its original end date. Shortly afterward, however, his detention was extended for another four months, leading him to resume the strike.

A demonstrator takes part in a protest in solidarity with Palestinian hunger striker Khalil Awawda, who is jailed by Israel, in Gaza City, last month.Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Physicians for Human Rights said that since he paused his hunger strike for only a short time, his body was unable to recover. Consequently, it said, the two strikes should be viewed as one long hunger strike from a medical perspective.

Awawda, 40, lives in the village of Idna, near Hebron. He is married with four daughters. He was first arrested in 2002, while he was studying engineering at Hebron University. He was sentenced to five years and released in 2007.

He was arrested again later that year and held without trial for almost three years. He was then arrested several more times during the following years.

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