Power outages have become commonplace in the Gaza Strip in recent months after Israel declared the area a "hostile entity" and began restricting fuel supplies.
 
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However, Arye Mekel, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said that supplies of petrol used in cars, as well as diesel, had been halted but not fuel oil and cooking gas.
   
"The ball is in their court," Mekel said. "If they stop the rockets today, everything would go back to normal."

He suggested the power plant's shutdown was unnecessary saying: "They have an interest in exaggerating".

No fuel, no water

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Gaza, said that electricity was running out fast.

"The only power station in Gaza has already closed down half its power generating capacity. The final generating unit is set to close in a matter of hours," she said.

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"No fuel coming in means no power generation, it also means no fuel for the generators that fuel the water pumps - a lot of the water in Gaza is deep beneath the surface, and it has to be pumped to the surface - so no fuel can also mean no water."

As fuel runs out, residents are scrambling for basic necessities.

People are stocking up on fuel and food before prices spike and supplies run dry.

"People are shopping feverishly, fearing products will vanish from the shelves soon," Jihad Abu Anwar, a grocery store owner, told the Reuters news agency.

Basim Naeem, the Hamas-appointed health minister, said that the already crumbling health system was in danger of collapsing and patients' lives were increasingly at risk due to the fuel cuts.

'Humanitarian standards'

UNRWA, the UN organisation supporting Palestinian refugees, warned that the shortages would drastically affect hospitals, sewage treatment plants and water facilities.

"The logic of this defies basic humanitarian standards," Christopher Gunness, UNRWA spokesman, said.

Hospitals are able to opearte using generators when the power goes out, but they will have to cut back on activities like laundry, waste incineration and sterilisation, hospital officials said.

The UN has said Israel should not collectively punish Gaza's population while responding to security threats.
 
The organisation has criticised Israel's decision to close border crossings into Gaza, preventing aid deliveries to the 1.5 million people living in the territory, saying on Saturday that the move could provoke a humanitarian crisis.
 
 A lack of fuel will lead to a shortage of
basic necessities [AFP]
"Such action cuts off the population from much-needed fuel supplies used to pump water and generate electricity to homes and hospitals," Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said.
 
Ban also urged an immediate end to violence in Gaza and Palestinian sniper and rocket attacks into Israel.
 
He called for "maximum restraint on the part of the Israeli defence forces".

International condemnation

Al Jazeera's Rowland said that the international condemnation highlighted the need for Israel to stop its collective punishment of residents in Gaza.

"Fighters make up about one per cent of the population," she said.

"There are over one million people that live in the Gaza Strip, and it is unacceptable that they are all suffering for the actions of a small minority."

Zeev Boim, an Israeli cabinet minister, said that rather than condemning Israel's move, the UN should condemn Palestinian rocket attacks.

"I don't hear the UN's voice," he said.
 
Israel has continued to push ahead with its military offensive against Palestinian fighters in both Gaza and the West Bank.
 
On Thursday, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement that his country was at "war" against fighters in the Gaza Strip.
 
The Israeli military has particularly intensified its operations in Gaza, with at least 32 people killed during the past week. In response, Hamas has begun firing rockets at Israel for the first time in months.
 
Around 230 rockets and mortars have been fired over the border since Tuesday, the Israeli military said

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies