Gaza marks ten years of conflict, misery under Hamas rule
London - I t has been ten years since the Palestinian movement Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, which continues to face conflict, frequent electricity blackouts, poverty and Israel’s blockade.
The Gaza Strip came under Hamas control on June 15, 2007, after its militants drove out forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction following a dispute over parliamentary elections won by the Islamist movement.
Divisions remain deep between Hamas and Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank, with reconciliation between the two rivals seemingly a long way off. The power struggle casts its shadow on the poverty-stricken and overcrowded coastal enclave.
The strip, which is home to about 2 million Palestinians, is also subject to a strict Israeli blockade and its border with Egypt has largely remained closed in recent years. Egypt has destroyed many tunnels Gazans used for smuggling to and from the Sinai Peninsula.
Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, arguing that this ended its military occupation of the territory despite its continued control over the region’s land, sea and air links to the outside world.
The international community, however, has a different view. The United Nations considers the lands Israel captured in 1967 — the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — as a single unit and holds Israel, as the occupier, responsible for the welfare of all Palestinians living there.
The World Bank said Gaza’s GDP losses caused by the blockade are estimated at more than 50%. Unemployment stands at 45% and more than two-thirds of the population depends on humanitarian aid.
The Gaza Strip has almost no industry and suffers from a chronic lack of water and fuel. Its problems are expected to increase after Israel announced it would reduce electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip after the Palestinian Authority limited its pay for power to the enclave.
The decision by Israel’s security cabinet is expected to further shorten Gaza’s daily power input, which averages around four hours, by 45 minutes. Gaza’s residents receive power from an electricity grid dependent on Israeli supplies.
The Palestinian Authority informed Israel that it would cover only 70% of the monthly cost of electricity that the Israel Electric Corporation supplies to the Gaza Strip.
The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority blamed the reduced power supply on Hamas’s failure to reimburse it for the electricity. The Palestinian Authority had previously cut the salaries of its employees in Gaza.
“To resolve the crisis Hamas must respond to Mahmoud Abbas’s offer to end the political divisions,” Palestinian Authority spokesman Tareq Rashmawi told Agence France-Presse.
Hamas said the cut was made on Abbas’s orders and termed it “a catastrophe.” “This decision aggravates the situation and risks an explosion in the Gaza Strip,” the group said in a statement.
Gaza’s residents have adapted to worsening hardships with ingenuity and stoicism.
In some apartment buildings, residents have pooled resources to buy communal generators. Most Gazans buy food daily because they can no longer use refrigerators. Formerly routine activities such as showering or running a washing machine are done at odd hours, when power is on.
Gaza’s sole power plant stopped working in April after it ran out of fuel that had partially been paid for by Qatar and Turkey, one-time regional backers whose support appears to have cooled.
Concerns have been raised for hospitals and infrastructure such as water treatment facilities — already at risk.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned of a “systemic collapse.”
Young people protested against electricity shortages in January when thousands in northern Gaza marched to the local headquarters of the electricity company. Hamas security forces fired warning shots and made arrests as they dispersed the protesters. Further protests were prevented by a show of force from Hamas security services and jailed demonstrators were later released.
Whether the tensions will lead to another escalation between Hamas and Israel is a question constantly being posed.
While UN officials have called for Israel to lift its blockade, citing deteriorating conditions, Israel said it is needed to stop Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials used to make them.
The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies.