* Hamas criticises Egypt for blocking oil supplies
* Fuel crisis has caused lengthy electricity blackouts
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, March 2 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)