Fuel supplies in Gaza drying up

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer
July 1, 2006

Ramadan Abu Hujeir's gas station was one of the few businesses bustling in the Gaza Strip on Saturday. Lines of cars, tractors and people waving jerry cans spilled out into the road waiting to get some of the last drops of gasoline in Gaza.

Local officials and aid workers worry that the fuel shortage will stop more than Gaza's cars. They fear that its hospitals will lose power and its water pumping stations will grind to a halt.

The water company and hospitals have had to rely on generators for an uninterrupted power supply since an Israeli airstrike destroyed Gaza's only power plant Tuesday night as part of an offensive to pressure militants to release an abducted soldier.

Israel also sealed Gaza's cargo terminal and turned off the gasoline pipeline feeding Gaza, and the supply of fuel for the generators has rapidly dwindled.

Eissa Daher, the acting mayor of Jebaliya in northern Gaza, said there was enough gas to pump and treat water for between three and seven days.

"If we don't get a new supply, it will be an environmental disaster," he said.

Hospitals, which stocked up on fuel before the offensive, said they did not count on having to run on generator power for 18 hours a day.

Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the main hospital in the territory, has seven to 10 days of fuel left, said Dr. Jumaa al-Sakka, a hospital administrator.

"If the fuel runs out, people in intensive care units and babies in incubators will immediately die," he said.

The Israeli army said Saturday that Israel had increased the supply of electricity it provides to Gaza to make up for the power plant it hit and would work to allow food and fuel to enter in the coming days.

At a news conference Saturday night, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said his government is consulting with experts about the electricity shortages. He also said, "I hope to be able to bring fuel and food in because there is a famine happening right now, and what is to come maybe more dangerous, bigger and vicious."

The fuel crisis has created tense scenes at several gas stations.

Hundreds of people jammed one station in Gaza City on Saturday, crowding the gas pumps to try to fill their containers.

Policemen intervened to guard the pumps and to limit purchases to 2 1/2 gallons per customer.

The crowd at Abu Hujeir's station in the small town of Bureij pushed and shoved to get near the gas pump.

"I can't close down until it is all finished," Abu Hujeir said, watching the rowdy crowd over his shoulder.

His 390 gallons ran out in an hour, but the people lingered hoping more fuel would appear.

"God knows what we will do next," said Emad al-Nabahein, a Bureij farmer, who turned up with a one-gallon container to feed a water pump he shares with his cousin. He lashed out at the Palestinian government for not storing fuel in anticipation of Israel's offensive.

No food or water crisis is yet apparent in Gaza, though many residents complain of having to walk up long flights of stairs and live without refrigerators during the sizzling summer days.

Towns are providing electricity to different neighborhoods for about six hours a day, but some Jebaliya residents said they spent the whole day without power or water.

Khairiya Nasr, a 45-year-old mother of five, said she and her children "slept" through Friday. By Saturday morning, power and water had come back on.

"We were very happy," she said, adding that now she can shower.

Samir Muhanna, 17, said the rolling blackouts made it a challenge for him and his friends to watch the World Cup quarter finals.

"We went to four different houses to look for somewhere with electricity," he said. "Finally, we found a store with power and we turned his set to the match. More than 70 people turned up after us."

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