Gaza Swelters Through Summer Without Power

The modern power station is completely paralyzed; the Gaza Strip lacks some 60 percent of its supply of electricity.

It's hot, very hot, in the Gaza Strip. But over the last two months, ever since Israel bombed the new power station in the center of the Strip, the heat has become unbearable. The bombing has disrupted the supply of electricity to some 1.5 million residents; food in refrigerators goes bad, the patients in the hospitals groan, industry and work are paralyzed, traffic is gridlocked and there is a severe water shortage.

On the night of June 28, the Israel Air Force bombed the power station as part of Operation Summer Rains, destroying its six transformers. The assault was approved by the security cabinet, and was intended to pressure the Palestinians into releasing Gilad Shalit, the captured soldier.

The modern power station, financed by Enron in partnership with a Palestinian company, was completely paralyzed, and the Gaza Strip lost some 60 percent of its supply of electricity. Gaza buys the remaining 40 percent from the Israel Electricity Corporation.

On Sunday this week, the burned out and destroyed transformers were still lying near the power station's fence. Two were made by Israeli company Elco Industries, and four by the German ABB. The station, located between Gaza and Dir al Balah, was inaugurated at the end of 2001. It was to provide power not only to Gaza but to the West Bank too, after being linked in the future to the Israeli network.

Israel knew exactly what it was bombing, says station manager Dr. Drar Abu-Sisi. It's impossible to operate the station without the transformers. Replacing them would take at least a year - either by ordering new transformers or by hooking up to the Egyptian power network.

With a capacity of 140 megawatts, the power station was the most advanced in the Arab world. Israel could have paralyzed the station by simply stopping its fuel supply, without putting it out of action for months.

"Had they told us on the phone to cut the power off, we'd have done so right away," says Abu-Sisi, who is convinced that the bombing was politically motivated.

"It was a foolish attack, which only sows more and more hatred for Israel," he says.

Each transformer costs around $2 million, but the main damage is indirect - the loss of income to the power station, grave damage to all its systems that could rust, and the huge blow to the Gaza Strip's miserable economy.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office told Haaretz Monday that "the bombing was intended to disrupt the activity of the terror networks directly and indirectly associated with Gilad Shalit's kidnapping."

Meanwhile, the station's 160 workers are out of work and Gaza has electrical power for only a few hours a day. Those who can afford it buy generators, and everyone goes up on the rooftops at night to escape the burdensome heat inside.