GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Gaza Strip is in the midst of an electricity shortage that has left residents with just a few hours of power a day, turning many aspects of everyday life in the Hamas-ruled territory upside down and raising concerns about a humanitarian crisis.
Here's a look at the Gaza power crisis:
WHAT CAUSED THE CRISIS?
Gaza's power woes began in 2006, when Israel bombed the territory's power plant after Hamas-allied militants captured an Israeli soldier.
It took years for the power plant to be fixed, but due to its limited capacity and growth in Gaza's population, it provides just a small fraction of the territory's needs. As a result, Gaza relies on electricity purchased from neighboring Israel and Egypt.
For several years, Gaza has scraped by with roughly eight hours of electricity a day. But in recent months, the situation has worsened due to a combination of factors.
The power plant has not operated since April after emergency fuel shipments, purchased from Israel by Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey, ended. Electricity deliveries from Egypt, which is busy fighting its own Islamic militants, are unreliable, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, locked in a bitter rivalry with Hamas, wants to reduce electricity purchases for Gaza by about 40 percent.
This reduced supply, combined with peak demand during the Ramadan holiday season, has created rolling blackouts that give people just two to four hours of power at a time.
WHAT IS THE EFFECT ON DAILY LIFE?
The blackouts are most noticeable at night, when Gaza City, the territory's capital, and other population centers are largely in the dark.
Residents must carefully plan daily tasks such as doing the laundry or taking a shower when they expect to have power, even if that means waking up in the middle of the night. Many Gazan homes use electric water pumps, so no electricity also means no water.
Many homes and businesses also rely on gasoline-fueled generators to keep the lights on or elevators running for a few extra hours a day. Others turn to large batteries to run household appliances. A privileged few can afford solar panels to provide hot water, and a new industry of ice salesmen has sprouted up to help keep refrigerators cool.
Still, most residents are unable to keep their refrigerators running full-time and instead go shopping each day for items like milk and meat. Power-hungry appliances like air conditioning are rarely used, and in the hot summer weather, many residents flock to the beach at sundown to break the daily Ramadan fast because their homes are so uncomfortable.
WHAT DOES ABBAS WANT?
The Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Abbas' forces, leaving him in control only of autonomous zones in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Abbas, claiming to represent all Palestinians, has paid for Gaza's electricity for the past decade. But after repeated failures at reconciliation with Hamas, he has decided he no longer wants to subsidize the group's rule.
WHAT IS ISRAEL'S STRATEGY?
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought three wars since the Gaza takeover.
While Israel is wary of helping Hamas maintain power, it has delivered the limited flow of electricity for pragmatic reasons: It does not want a humanitarian disaster on its doorstep, and it fears further deterioration could lead to renewed violence.
Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tried to describe the crisis as an internal Palestinian matter on Thursday and said Israel is merely a "supplier."
"We are not a side in this issue. They pay, they get electricity. They don't pay, they don't get electricity," he said, accusing Hamas of wasting its limited funds on weapons and attack tunnels.
But Israel may have no choice but to find a creative way to keep the power flowing, such as finding an international donor to pay for it.
IS THERE ANYTHING HAMAS CAN DO?
The internationally isolated Hamas is in a grave financial crisis. Already struggling to pay the salaries of its thousands of civil servants and security men, it cannot afford to buy fuel. It also is unlikely to significantly cut spending on its military activities — the base of its support.
It will continue to appeal to Abbas to resume the fuel purchases and will likely seek help from Qatar and Turkey. But both countries are distracted with their own problems and in Qatar's case, under heavy international pressure to cut ties with Hamas.
WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE?
Residents are clearly suffering, and many privately express dissatisfaction with the widespread poverty and hardship under Hamas rule.
But the group maintains an iron grip on power and has quickly suppressed any signs of public dissent. For Gazans, there does not seem to be any alternative in sight.
Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Gaza City and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.