Gaza City awoke today to shuttered bread shops and petrol stations today as Israel pressed ahead with efforts to stop Palestinian rocket fire, refusing to reopen crossings or allow in crucial fuel supplies.
Electricity officials shut down Gaza’s only power plant just before 8pm (6pm Irish time) last night, said Gaza Energy Authority head Kanan Obeid.
Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain warned that the fuel cut-off would cause a health catastrophe.
“We have the choice to either cut electricity on babies in the maternity ward or heart surgery patients or stop operating rooms,” he said.
Gaza bakeries stopped operating because of the blockade, bakers said, because they had neither power nor flour. Residents of the strip typically rely on fresh loaves of pita bread as a main part of their diet.
Waiting in a line at the only bakery for miles, Mohammed Salman said he had spent far more on taxis getting to the shop than he would on bread.
“I’m going to buy something that my family can keep for only two days because there is no electricity and no refrigerator,” Salman said. “We cannot keep anything longer than that.”
In addition to the fuel it receives from Israel to power its electrical plant, Gaza gets most of its electricity directly from Israel. Israeli officials said that Gaza continues to receive 75% of its normal electricity supplies, but acknowledged that fuel supplies have been virtually stopped.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel accused Hamas of creating an artificial emergency, calling the blackout a “ploy … to attract international sympathy”.
Hamas claimed that five people had died at hospitals because of the power outage. However, health officials denied the claim.
Israel was trying to find a way to stop rocket fire into its southern communities.
Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said today that the reduction in electricity and fuel supplies may be working, since the number of rockets fired today dropped considerably. The army said five were fired yesterday, down from 53 in the two previous days.
“This is a tough battle and difficult battle and strong battle,” Ramon told Army Radio. “We need patience and determination for this struggle.”
Israel sealed all crossings into Gaza last week in response to the fighting, cutting off fuel, food and medicine. Several weeks ago Israel reduced the fuel supply as a pressure tactic.
Last night Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to Israel to lift the blockade.
Human rights groups condemned the fuel cut-off. British charity Oxfam called it “ineffective as well as unlawful”.
Gisha, an Israeli group that has fought the fuel cutbacks in Israel’s Supreme Court, said “punishing Gaza’s 1.5 million civilians does not stop the rocket fire; it only creates an impossible ’balance’ of human suffering on both sides of the border”.
Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but many see Israel as still responsible, since it controls most land, sea and air access to the territory.
Alon Ben-David, military analyst for Israel’s Channel 10 TV, said Israel could not maintain the blockade for more than a few days. “Israel understands that a humanitarian crisis is developing here,” he said.