The continued shutdown of the Rafah Border Crossing threatens a full breakdown of all “humanitarian sectors” needed to sustain life in Gaza, the Hamas Cabinet spokesman Ihab Al-Ghosein said on Sunday.
Al-Ghosein’s statement, which was published on the cabinet’s official page, said “it has become clear that the Egyptian side is intent on tightening the siege on the Gaza Strip and escalating the humanitarian situation.” The strip has been under air, land, and sea blockade since 2007, when the Islamic Resistance Movement, more commonly known as Hamas, took over.
Al-Ghosein added that the Egyptian side is dealing with the humanitarian suffering with “unjustified negativity” and called on the Egyptian side to open the Rafah Border Crossing, which has been shut since 8 November until further notice.
The ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July was followed by repeated shutdowns of the Rafah Border Crossing that would last for longer than a week in many cases.
Al-Ghosein called on Egypt to end its “disregard” for the suffering of Gazans, adding that the suffering has become unbearable. He additionally called on all Arab and regional countries to immediately intervene to open the Rafah Border Crossing and all other closed crossings that are “stifling” the strip.
The latest weekly report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, “the recurrent closure of the Rafah crossing has contributed to a decline in the volume of aid supplies donated by international actors, which had previously been transferred via the Rafah crossing.”
But the humanitarian situation in Gaza is exacerbated by a fuel crisis which has left the strip’s only power plant shut for 17 days. The Gaza Power Plant had been operating on half of its capacity for weeks but on Friday, 1 November, the power plant shut down.
A Gazan proposal to end the fuel crisis was announced on Sunday by Deputy Chairman of the Energy Authority Fathi Al-Sheikh Khalil who said that a proposal presented to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) suggested that the agency would buy the fuel needed to operate the power plant from Israel and that Gulf emirate of Qatar would pay the price difference. Khalil said UNRWA presented the proposal to Israel but is yet to receive an Israeli response.
The power plant needs 500,000 liters of fuel a day to run on full capacity. Israeli fuel is more expensive than the subsidised Egyptian fuel Gaza used to rely on for electricity.
Before June 2013, the power plant used to receive 400,000 liters of subsidized Egyptian fuel a day. The latest OCHA report stated that, “almost no Egyptian fuel was supplied to Gaza via illegal smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt.”
The shutdown of the power plant increases power cuts in the strip from 12 to 16 hours a day, the OCHA report said, adding that it “disrupts the provision of basic services, including water supply, sanitation, health, and transportation.”
One day after the power plant shut down, the military spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces said on his official page that the army had discovered and destroyed, in the early hours of Saturday, the “largest network” for diesel smuggling to Gaza. It came as part of an ongoing crackdown on illegal underground tunnel operations beneath the Egypt-Gaza Strip border.
The illegal underground tunneling activity was vital for supplying Gazans with food, medicine, fuel and building materials.
Hamas-Egypt relations have witnessed increasing tensions in recent months, much of which is related to the rise of militancy which took place in Sinai, after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.
The Foreign Ministry did not respond to a call for comment in time for publishing but earlier Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said in an interview in September that there are doubts regarding Hamas and “other Islamic movements in Gaza” in relation to “the terrorist activity in Sinai,” adding that tough responses, including military action, will follow if Egypt feels Hamas or other parties are attempting to threaten national security.