Israel: Gaza blackouts are Hamas propaganda
As fuel terminals close in response to recent Qassam attacks, Gazan residents suffer blackouts due to shutting down of power stations. Vilnai: 'Pity we're falling for this propaganda; if there is one kilowatt in Gaza it's in a rocket-manufacturing workshop'
Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the transfer of a limited amount of fuel to Gaza on Monday – mostly diesel for power stations – after receiving complaints from the Strip on numerous blackouts due to a lack of fuel.
However Barak ordered the goods crossings to remain closed on Tuesday in response to the recent rocket attacks from Gaza.
Palestinian sources reported earlier that fuel shortages were forcing Gaza's main power station to shut down, causing blackouts throughout the Strip. The shortage resulted from the closing down of the fuel terminals as a response to the rocket attacks that pounded southern Israel in recent days.
About 800,000 of the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million residents lost power when the plant was shut down, an official at the plant said.
The Gaza Energy Authority announced that stations dependant on Israeli fuel would continue to shut down intermittently, causing certain areas to lose power for an average of 16 hours a day, until the fuel supply is renewed.
The authority further stated that the shortage was caused by a lack of fuel reserves, as Israel had been transferring fuel to the Strip on a day-by-day allowance.
Residents appeared troubled Monday by fears that the shortage would result in the shutting down of businesses during the evening due to the lack of electricity.
The main fear was that bakeries would have to be shut down as cooking gas dwindled, resulting in a scarcity of bread. The Hamas government stated that the measures taken by Israel would not succeed in subduing the group or forcing it to prolong the ceasefire.
Residents read by candlelight as power goes out (Photo: AFP)
"We warn that we have many options, and we will not stand idly by and watch our people die a slow death," said Taher Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza.
Lord Nazir Ahmed, a British politician who is leading a delegation of European lawmakers to Gaza, said the European Union should pressure Israel to resume the fuel flow. The EU pays for Gaza's industrial fuel. "If Israel prepares to go down this route, they should face isolation," Ahmed said.
Gisha, an Israeli-based human rights organization, accused Israel of collective punishment. "The residents of Gaza should not pay the price for the escalation in violence, just as the residents of Sderot and the south should be kept out of the line of fire," the organization said in a statement.
"International law prohibits harming civilians even in times of war, and specifically prohibits collective punishment measures against civilian populations like those Israel has been implementing."
'We're falling for Hamas propaganda'
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Hamas is using Gaza's electricity to attack Israel.
"It's a pity that we are falling for this propaganda. I can confirm one thing, if there is only one kilowatt in all of Gaza it will be in one place only - a workshop that manufactures rockets," he told Army Radio.
"They are using us. They know us. They know our sensitivity to humanitarian issues and they are playing with it."
Dozens of Qassam rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel since an IDF operation in Gaza last week that uncovered a tunnel intended for kidnapping soldiers. Following the attacks Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to halt the fuel supply to Gaza.
Immediately after the decision was announced the Foreign Ministry published a statement saying Hamas was to blame for the shortages. "Hamas is responsible for the situation in Gaza and the suffering of the civilian population there. Hamas uses its resources for terror rather than the care of civilian needs," the statement said.
The ministry further accused the organization of escalating violence and withholding power in order to gain favor in the international community. It also stated that Israel expects Hamas to uphold its end of the ceasefire agreement.
"The ongoing fire of rockets and mortar shells is causing an impossible situation in which Israel cannot supply Gaza with the supplies necessary," the statement said, adding that electricity and water were still being transferred to the Strip.
Ali Waked, Roni Sofer and Reuters contributed to this report