Hamas blames power crisis on Egypt in rare rift

Fri Mar 2, 2012 3:09pm GMT

Related Topics

* Hamas criticises Egypt for blocking oil supplies

* Fuel crisis has caused lengthy electricity blackouts

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, March 2 (Reuters) - Gaza's top political leader blamed Egypt on Friday for causing a power crisis that has triggered lengthy blackouts in the Palestinian enclave, laying bare tensions between his Islamist group Hamas and Cairo.

The outages started in mid February, leaving households with just six hours of electricity a day, provoking widespread criticism within the territory of Hamas, which governs Gaza.

Looking to deflect the anger, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told supporters that Egypt controlled the flow of fuel into Gaza and suggested the authorities in Cairo should have done more to help following the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

"Is it reasonable that Gaza remains without electricity a year after the revolution in Egypt?" Haniyeh said in a weekly address, accusing Cairo of trying to force Gazans to accept their energy supplies via arch foe Israel.

"Is it reasonable that Gaza remains blockaded a year after the dismissal of the tyrant (Mubarak) regime?" he said.

There was no immediate comment from Egypt.

Israel imposes a land, sea and air blockade to prevent any materials which could be used to make arms from reaching Hamas, which does not recognise Israel's right to exist.

Mubarak helped maintain the blockade and Gazans celebrated his ousting in the belief that the new rulers would be much more supportive of their cause. But change has come slowly.

Crucial fuel supplies that feed Gaza's sole power plant were unexpectedly cut last month and Egypt has told Hamas that in future it should import its oil through legal channels -- namely the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Officials have indicated that Egypt was angry that Hamas was smuggling in subsidised fuel intended for the Egyptian people. Haniyeh said he could not agree to shift imports via Kerem Shalom because they would be too costly and vulnerable.

Haniyeh said Egypt wanted Gazans to pay $1 a litre for fuel in future -- more than what they paid for smuggled diesel. Hamas used to tax the oil that came in from the tunnels, but goods entering Gaza via Israel is taxed by its rival, the Palestinian Authority (PA), thereby jeopardising Hamas finances.

"There is also a security problem. If someone fired a bullet three kilometers away from Kerem Shalom, the Israelis would close the crossing and prevent the entry of fuel," Haniyeh said.

Hamas has not renounced violence and militants in the enclave regularly fire missiles at Israel.

The power crisis has come at a bad time for Hamas, which is struggling to overcome unprecedented internal divisions over efforts to overcome a deep rift between itself and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose PA body runs the West Bank.

The reconciliation efforts have been partly brokered by Egypt and some newspaper commentators have suggested that Cairo turned off the fuel taps to put pressure on a highly hesitant Hamas to accept the proposed unity accord.

Without mentioning Egypt by name, Haniyeh appeared to give credence to the speculation. "Some parties want to continue to pressure Gaza, Hamas and the government, believing they can get concessions," he said, adding: "Neither electricity nor anything else will push Gaza people make any concession."

With the situation deadlocked, Haniyeh said Gaza might be able to get fuel for free from Algeria or Iran.

(Editing by Crispian Balmer and Roger Atwood)

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