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Middle East

Storm-hit Gaza gets emergency fuel

As major flooding forces 10,000 people out of their homes, delivery allows Gaza's only power plant to resume operation.

Last updated: 15 Dec 2013 23:22
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The Gaza Strip's lone power station has resumed operations for the first time in more than seven weeks, after the besieged Palestinian enclave received a long-awaited delivery of diesel fuel.

Israel allowed the entry of 450,000 litres of fuel, paid for by Qatar, into Gaza on Sunday in response to an emergency appeal for aid after torrential rains and flooding killed two people and forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 residents from homes throughout the territory.

Qatar will send $10mn to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA), which ordered the fuel from Israel.

Those supplies, officials said, should keep the power plant partially operating for at least 90 days. The plant supplies some 30 percent of Gaza's electricity needs.

"The first generator has started working, the second one will follow, and by this evening, the company should be able to generate around 60 megawatts of electricity," Jamal Dirsawi, spokesman for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO), told the AFP news agency.

"This will give GEDCO an opportunity to provide more hours of electricity to citizens."

The emergency fuel distribution was expedited on Friday after a major winter storm hit the region, and the United Nations declared Gaza, which suffered from major flooding, a "disaster area".

In a statement on Sunday, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said the storm had caused damage to electricity feeder lines from Egypt and Israel, further exacerbating the power problem.

The Hamas-run government in Gaza said Qatar will also send a ship loaded with fuel to Israel's Mediterranean seaport of Ashdod for later transfer to the Gaza Strip, and allocate $5mn to help Gaza residents affected by the storm.

16-hour blackouts

The 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have endured daily blackouts of up to 16 hours since the power plant was switched off 50 days ago.

The territory lacks basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade meant to cut off arms flows, but which also curbs imports of fuel, building supplies and basic goods.

The widespread fuel crisis has affected private homes, schools and hospitals, businesses, and water and sanitation plants.

Hamas has blamed the situation on Egypt's destruction of 1,200 cross-border tunnels which had in the past been used for bringing fuel into Gaza under the Israeli blockade. They have also accused the PA of charging too much for fuel.

Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, the deputy head of Gaza's energy authority, said Sunday's fuel delivery would half the number of hours without power.

"The power station will start working and the service will be available gradually, returning to the former programme of eight hours with electricity and eight hours without," he told a news conference.

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