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Hamas shuts down Gaza power plant

Israel accuses Hamas of creating fake crisis
May 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Gaza City residents faced closed bakeries, stalled elevators and no water on Sunday after the ruling Hamas shut down the territory's only power plant, saying it ran out of fuel supplied by Israel. Israel charged that Hamas was creating an artificial crisis, raising tensions ahead of a visit by the Egyptian mediator trying to broker a truce between the two enemies.

Gaza receives its fuel supplies from Israel, which has severely limited shipments to pressure Palestinian militants to halt their rocket barrages at nearby Jewish communities. An Israeli man was killed Friday by a mortar shell fired from Gaza, and Hamas claimed responsibility.

On Sunday, Gaza militants fired three rockets at Israel, the military said. One exploded next to a school bus transporting children, another hit a factory and the third landed at a college. No one was hurt.

At Sunday's meeting of Israel's Cabinet, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged to stop the daily barrages.

"Either there will be quiet or Israel will take strong action that eventually will bring quiet," Olmert said at the start of the meeting. After the fatal attack Friday on Israel, five Palestinians were killed in Israeli raids in Gaza.

The sudden spike came as Egypt pressed for a halt to the violence.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is due in Israel on Monday, an Israeli government official confirmed. For months, Suleiman has been trying to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas.

Israel does not talk to Hamas, which does not accept the existence of the Jewish state. While warning that a truce would allow Hamas to rearm and regroup, Olmert has said Israel would hold its fire if militants stop their attacks.

"Omar Suleiman will come and we will listen to him, we'll talk and we'll see what he is recommending," Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio on Sunday. "Until this moment there is nothing on the table open for discussion."

Israeli military officials have said privately that Suleiman would not be coming to Israel unless he was trying to put the final touches on a cease-fire deal.

Suleiman arrives in Israel just two days before President Bush lands to join in Israel's 60th Independence Day celebrations.

Gaza, meanwhile, was hobbled by an energy shortage after a major energy supplier turned off its turbines on Saturday.

The idled power plant supplies Gaza City and surrounding areas, where about 400,000 people live. However, most of Gaza's electricity is transferred on land lines from Israel, and that supply was not affected. That means residents still get electricity for about six hours a day despite the plant shutdown.

A small amount of Gaza's electricity comes from Egypt.

Hamas is widely believed to be hoarding supplies of fuel for commercial vehicles, ensuring its loyalists get supplies first.

On Sunday, Ziad Zaza, a member of the Hamas government in Gaza, announced it would distribute fuel to bus companies to transport residents and students. Zaza did not say where the government obtained the fuel.

"This is another example of Hamas orchestrating an artificial crisis," said David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman.

Because elevators weren't working, Mona Bukhari stayed inside her apartment on the sixth floor of a Gaza City building. The 47-year-old housewife said she has a weak heart and can't comfortably walk up stairs.

Bukhari sent her children to fill bottles with water from a well across the road.

Salim Murtaja, 44, said he passed seven shuttered bakeries while trying to find bread on Sunday. About 50 of 75 bakeries in Gaza closed because they had no emergency fuel for their ovens, officials said.

Kanan Obeid, a senior Gaza power plant official, said Israel provided about 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel last week, just short of what they needed. He said they ran out of fuel Saturday afternoon.

But Mujahid Salame, head of the Petrol Authority in the West Bank, said the fuel should have been enough to keep the power plant going until Monday evening. Salame is hostile to Hamas but coordinates the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip.

Shadi Yassin, an Israeli military spokesman, said Israel was unable to provide the full amount last week because Palestinian militants fired mortars at the Gaza fuel depot.

 

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