Middle East

Angry protests in Gaza over crippling power shortages

A man raises his fist during protests in Gaza over the electricity supply Image copyright AFP
Image caption Gaza has seen its largest unauthoried protests in almost a decade

This week security forces of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas have arrested dozens of Gaza residents for participating in protests against cuts to the electricity supply. Tensions and anger are now rising in the Gaza Strip as many are without power for more than 18 hours a day.

Thousands of angry demonstrators have poured onto the streets, protesting against both the local electricity company and the Hamas-run Gaza power authority, demanding an immediate solution.

Image copyright AP
Image caption People are angry after being left without power for up to 18 hours a day

Hamas security forces violently dispersed the protesters, with shots fired in the air to clear the crowds and a number of protesters and local journalists assaulted.

The unusual protest near Gaza's most densely populated place - the Jebaliya refugee camp - was one of the largest unauthorised and unplanned protests since Hamas reinforced its power in the strip in 2007, when it removed officials from the Fatah movement.

Since then, there has effectively been a division of the Palestinian territories, with parts of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority and its Fatah President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Gaza governed by Hamas.

'Thank God I am still alive'

A video posted on Facebook shows demonstrators marching from the centre of the refugee camp to the headquarters of the electricity company.

Hamas security forces, some wearing civilian clothes, then began firing live ammunition into the air and hitting civilians with batons.

"Thank God I am still alive! I was hit by several punches and blows from the police," said Ehab Elmaghraby, a student who took part in the protest.

"We were shouting from the beginning, 'Peaceful, peaceful, we need electricity'," he added.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Security forces cracked down following the protests

For the last couple of years, people in Gaza receive electricity on alternating eight-hour cycles, but for the last four weeks they have only received a maximum of four hours of power a day from the electricity company - a reduction in supply that has come in the middle of particularly cold weather in Gaza.

The two million residents of Gaza require around 470-500 megawatts of power per day, but at the moment are receiving less than half of that, according to the spokesman for the electricity supplier, Tariq Lubbad.

Abu Ziad Sakallah owns a workshop producing household furnishings and can only work for a couple of hours every day. It's not enough to meet his deadlines for orders received.

"I'm no longer able to pay the salaries of my eight workers for the time when we aren't able to work. We are only working for three or four hours a day and this, of course, is not enough," Sakallah said.

Hamas' police forces arrested dozens of people in northern Gaza for their involvement in the demonstration.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Foreign news agencies were told not to cover the event

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said that "security personnel in the aftermath of the protest raided several houses and arrested a number of activists".

The Associated Press said that one of its journalists was arrested, while a photographer for the French news agency AFP was reportedly hit in the face by a police officer's gun when he refused to hand over his camera.

The foreign press had been told by Hamas not to cover the event. The photographer had to go to hospital and received stitches for a wound on his face.

On Friday, the Hamas movement held the government of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in Ramallah in the West Bank, and President Abbas responsible for the dire electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum said that the ongoing power shortage was "intentional" and aimed "to tighten the unfair siege on Gaza and create chaos and anarchy".

Barhum demanded that Abbas, and the Fatah movement that he leads, "end this dangerous policy" and end the crisis, which has left Gaza with less than a quarter of its required electricity.

More than 10 years ago, Israel destroyed a large part of the power plant located in central Gaza after the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas militants.

Since then, power shortages have had an impact on almost every aspect of life in Gaza.

Local and international organisations have suggested numerous solutions over the past decade to solve the crisis, leading to the reconstruction of the destroyed power station.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Hamas is blaming the government of the Palestinian Authority for the crisis

Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, warned that local residents could not be expected to live with "just a couple of hours of electricity per day in the middle of winter".

"I call for the full respect of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful protest and assembly in Gaza," Mladenov also said in a statement.

"All responsible authorities must co-operate to resolve the electricity crisis immediately," he added.

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