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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Qatar has agreed to buy fuel to restart the only power plant in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a top United Nations official said Tuesday, triggering accusations by the Palestinian Authority running the rival government in the West Bank that this will perpetuate the militants' control of the isolated enclave.
Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N.'s Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, said the Qatari grant will add a few more hours of electricity to Gaza's 2 million residents who experience daily blackouts of up to 16 hours. He said the new cashflow could sustain this boost for at least six months and that discussions were underway to find the "most optimal way" to deliver the fuel through Israel.
Local Palestinian reports said the fuel has already started to enter through Israel, but the company that runs the power station declined to comment.
Hamas, which overtook Gaza by force in 2007, accuses Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in the West Bank of hindering efforts to ease a crippling blockade that Israel and Egypt imposed on Gaza, including on the Qatari-funded fuel shipments.
The blockade has made it difficult for the Islamic group to govern and Abbas, who wants to end Hamas' unilateral control of Gaza, has made things harder by cutting the salaries of former PA employees there as pressure tactic.
The PA says the Qatari intervention undermines its efforts.
"When Qatar pays for the fuel, Hamas in Gaza will collect the bills and put it in its pocket, and this is an indirect financial aid to Hamas," said a PA official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The Palestinians have cut off contact with the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and are anxiously awaiting what they fear will be a new U.S. peace plan biased in Israel's favor.
Ahmed Majdalani, an aide to Abbas, said he was concerned the money being channeled to Gaza could play a part in that plan. "We believe that the U.S. is directing the money to Gaza not from a humanitarian perspective but rather from a political one," he said.
Meanwhile, McGoldrick said the humanitarian situation in Gaza was "obviously catastrophic."
More than a decade into the blockade and internal Palestinian split, unemployment in Gaza has hit a world record of more than 50 percent, tap water has become undrinkable and electricity is supplied for just four hours a day.
Making things more difficult, Washington has cut its annual contribution of $300 million to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, which provides education, health care and food to some 5 million Palestinians across the region.
About two-thirds of Gaza's population depends on UNRWA's services, mostly descendants of refugees who fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
Aside from UNRWA, other humanitarian services to Gaza have received only 29 percent of their funding for 2018, McGoldrick said. He said 2018 year was "going to be the worst year on record," and 2019 looked to be far worse.
"We have to get people to be more self-relying, able to look out to themselves so they are not dependent on a very fragile donor funding streams," he added.
Since March, Hamas has staged weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel fence, intensifying them recently after talks to broker a cease-fire ending the blockade run aground. Israeli fire has killed 148 Palestinians since the marches at the border began. A Gaza militant fatally shot an Israeli soldier in August.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.