Three Kids Die in Gaza Fire, Spurring Criticism Over Enclave's Power Crisis

Some local residents accuse Hamas of diverting scarce energy to tunnel-building.

Children look through a hole in the wall of a burned bedroom where three children were killed by a fire in Gaza City, May 7, 2016.
Khalil Hamra, AP

Three Palestinian children died in a Gaza house fire started by a candle Friday night, sparking internal finger-pointing over the coastal territory’s lingering power crisis.

Leaders in the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-controlled government accused the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of imposing taxes on fuel for Gaza’s lone power plant, worsening the crisis and raising the daily blackout to 18 hours. 

The PA rejects Hamas’ accusations and says the militant Islamic organization has prevented it from working in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian mourners carry the bodies of three children who were killed in a fire caused by a candle in Gaza City, May 7, 2016.
Khalil Hamra, AP

The incident also sparked rare local criticism of Hamas policies, with some Gaza residents accusing it of diverting its scarce electricity to its attack tunnel network against Israel instead.

Hamas organized Saturday’s funerals for the children and its security services deployed police along the funeral procession’s route to quell any disorder and outward protests.

The blaze that killed two girls, aged 5 and 3, and their 1-year-old brother, apparently started when candles that the family was using for illumination in the absence of electricity ignited a gas leak in the home.

Four other members of the Hindi family were treated for smoke inhalation and for mild to moderate burn injuries.

Hamas forcibly took control of the strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and has since periodically launched attacks on Israel from there.

There have been major shortages of electricity in the Gaza Strip for roughly the past 10 years, with power available for about 10 hours a day at the most. The territory’s power is supplied by Israel, Egypt and a single generating plant in the Strip that is insufficient to meet the population’s needs. 

Hamas has accused the PA of intentionally preventing supplies of diesel fuel from reaching the Strip, but the incident also sparked rare local criticism of Hamas policies, with some Gaza residents accusing it of diverting its scarce electricity instead to the network of attack tunnels it has built directed at Israel.  

As Israel and Turkey attempt to reach a reconciliation agreement over their own differences, which came to a head with a confrontation between the Israel Navy and a Turkish flotilla seeking to break the Israeli naval blockade of the strip, the supply of electricity and water to the strip have been raised as an issue in the course of the talks.

Hamas issued a harsh statement of condemnation on Saturday, attributing the deaths of the children to the Israeli blockade and also pointed the finger of blame at the PA.

“Life in the shadow of the siege and the strangulation are already unbearable,” the statement said. 

“We call on the international community to intervene immediately because it is impossible to suffer the situation any longer.”

At the funeral for the three children, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, called their deaths an “unforgivable crime,” which he said was caused by Israel cutting off power supplies, saying that it was no less serious a crime that Israeli attacks on the strip.

Islamic Jihad and other organizations also condemned Israel and the PA over the fatal fire.

The PA government in Ramallah roundly rejected the allegations saying that it is making efforts to resolve the power shortage. 

At the same time, said the PA, Hamas leaders attack it and take advantage of the distress of the Gazan population in an attempt to divert attention from its failed governance in the strip. “The ones responsible for the deaths of the children are those who are scuttling any attempt at reconciliation [between Hamas and the PA] and the full functioning of the government and who continue on in their grab of the Strip.”