European Union resumes fuel payments for Gaza plant

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, AP

European donors promised relief on Tuesday for Gazans who sweltered in dark, airless homes and choked on generator smoke during five days of power outages.

The European Union suspended fuel deliveries to a major Gaza power plant after it began to suspect the strip’s Hamas rulers were pocketing electricity revenues. On Tuesday, it announced that fuel shipments to the power plant would resume the following day, but that the plant must be audited.

Hamas denied skimming money, saying the allegations were cooked up by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ rival government in the West Bank in an effort to discredit it.

The fuel cutoff confronted the Islamic militant Hamas with a major crisis just two months after it seized control of the strip, vanquishing Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.

It also left at least half of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents in the dark and without fans as temperatures soared to 34 degrees (95 degrees F).

Without enough power to keep pumps going, authorities began rationing water. Shops in Gaza City’s main market set up noisy, smoke-spewing generators in the streets to run their lights. Families ran to the grocery stores every few hours to buy food because they couldn’t refrigerate. And streets were jammed with cars and irritable motorists because traffic lights were out.

The electricity outage initially began Friday after Israel closed a fuel crossing with Gaza, citing security threats.

Although Israel reopened the crossing on Sunday, the fuel shipments were not renewed because the EU notified the Israeli fuel vendor that it would not pay for them.

Hamas has been going door to door in Gaza in recent weeks, ordering residents to pay long-overdue electricity bills. While Hamas denies it controls the electricity company, Fatah insisted it does, citing the arrest last month of the Gaza electric company’s executive director.