Gaza power plant shuts down during heat wave as Palestinian infighting prevents fuel shipments

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Engineers shut down Gaza City's sole power plant on Saturday because of a lack of fuel, switching off electricity to some half a million people in the midst of a heat wave.

The fuel for the plant is supplied by the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank, which says it has reduced shipments because the Gaza's Hamas government is behind on payments.

"The electricity was cut in Gaza City because of there wasn't enough fuel for the station," said power station official Suheil Skeik.

The plant serves Gaza City and its surroundings, while the remaining million people in the rest of the tiny coastal territory rely on neighboring Egypt and Israel for their power needs.

An engineer at the plant said an emergency fuel shipment was expected on Sunday, which would allow them to restart one of the plant's four turbines and supply a few hours of power.

For the past few months the plant has supplied just six to 10 hours of power a day because of the ongoing problems with getting enough fuel from the West Bank government.

Gazans who can afford to buy generators use them to supplement the shortage. The noisy machines crowd the sidewalk and fill the air with gasoline fumes in Gaza City's commercial district.

But a complete power cut is expected to deepen the misery in Gaza, where residents have suffered through a sweltering heat wave — severe even by the standards of this hot, dry seaside enclave. Temperatures have soared well over 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) for the past few weeks.

Gaza's rulers, the militant Islamic group Hamas, are meant to collect utility bills and send the cash to their rivals, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which use it to buy the fuel.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib says Hamas isn't sending enough money, and on average, they were receiving only $1.3 million a month from the distribution company, while they were paying $9 million for the fuel.

"We need some transparency here. There has to be some kind of audit," Khatib said.

Skeik, the power station official, said the plant sent about $1 million last week, and expected to send another million in coming days.

Although the Palestinian Authority hasn't had a presence in Gaza since Hamas seized power over the territory in June 2007, it receives aid from the international community to pay for part of Gaza's bills.


Associated Press Writer Diaa Hadid contributed to this report from Jerusalem.