GAZA CITY — There’s a power struggle here over power.
The people of Gaza have been suffering through a steamy summer, subsisting on three or four hours of electricity a day, barely enough to charge their mobile phones and top off the car batteries they use to light a few bulbs at night.
The besieged coastal enclave is struggling to keep the lights on not just because of limited capacity, but also because of a rough political brawl between the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, and its longtime rival, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Also in the mix are Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Israelis, who all play a role in supplying electricity to the seaside strip.
Gaza saw a trickle of relief arrive on Wednesday afternoon, when Egypt sent 22 tanker trucks loaded with diesel across the border from Sinai. Eleven more trucks were due Thursday. It was the first legal fuel shipment through the Rafah crossing in years. Before, supplies were smuggled in through the Hamas tunnels, now mostly destroyed. The Egyptian fuel will be used to run the turbines in Gaza’s only power station, but it is only enough for a few days. The generating station has been offline for months.
The fuel from Egypt is just a temporary fix. Gaza, underserved for the past decade, suffering from a partial trade and travel blockade enforced by Egypt and Israel, is now seriously starving for power.
The bulk of electricity for Gaza today is delivered via Israeli power lines, which have experienced a steep drop in electricity transmission in recent days, the power reduced not by Israel but by the Palestinian Authority, which pays the bills and is demanding that Hamas cough up its share of the cost. Groups such as Amnesty International say it is still Israel’s responsibility to provide electricity because, in their view, it is the occupying power. Israel disputes this.
Hamas officials accuse Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of trying to squeeze the Islamist movement to surrender — or at least share — control of the strip. Hamas in Gaza, now run by Yehiya Sinwar, a hard-line militant who spent years in Israeli prisons, has other ideas.
On the streets in Gaza City, Palestinians expressed frustration, saying they felt they were being used as pawns in a game.
“I don’t care who brings fuel or electricity. I only care about having power at home and work. I need to live. I am not interested in understanding the dirty politics that we are living in currently,” said Hisham Thawabta, 45, who was out running errands in the heat.
“Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, the Arabs and of course Israel are responsible for the miserable life that Gaza is suffering from,” he said.
After Hamas won legislative elections in 2006, the group seized control of the enclave in 2007 in a spasm of violence that saw Hamas cadres fighting Abbas’s Fatah movement in the streets.
For years, Hamas and Fatah have sought reconciliation — or at least pretended to — pushed by regional powers such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Now it appears Abbas is weary of the game.
Hamas spokesman Hazim Qasim this week said Abbas was collaborating with the Israelis to besiege the strip.
Abbas says Hamas hegemony needs to end.
Ghada Sarhan, 28, who has three young children, was sitting in a sliver of shade in Gaza City. “We’re here in the park because we’ve got no electricity at home. Four hours a day is not enough for anything. We become sick, and with the heat in the summer ahead, we will die slowly.”
She said that “Hamas is making our life miserable, and the Palestinian Authority shares the blame. Politics is taking us nowhere. I can’t understand what’s going on around us. What I only understand that I don’t have electricity and my brother has no job and my husband is barely able to put food in our mouths.”
Abbas has begun preliminary talks with President Trump’s envoys to see whether it is possible to restart peace talks with Israel — an effort made even more difficult by Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization.
Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on Thursday accused Abbas of playing a dangerous game: withholding electricity from Gaza to incite Hamas to confront Israel. The last war in Gaza, in 2014, left thousands of Palestinians dead, alongside more than 70 Israelis, and wide swaths of the Palestinian territory in ruins.
Lieberman said Abbas had a two-pronged strategy: “Hurt Hamas and drag it to war with Israel. Abbas is doing this unilaterally, without having coordinated with Israel or Egypt.”
Lieberman said earlier that the Israeli electricity company is willing to provide a steady supply to Gaza but that someone has to pay for it. In his effort to press Hamas, Abbas informed Israel that the Palestinian Authority planned to slash payments for Gaza electricity by 40 percent.
Egypt’s supply of fuel might come with strings attached, too. Egypt’s military leaders have no love for Hamas, which was born of the Muslim Brotherhood. To supply fuel, Egypt is reportedly pushing Hamas to enter a power-sharing arrangement with an ousted Fatah leader named Mohammed Dahlan.
“We the people are the losers,” said Ayman Jamal, 37, who lives in a high-rise without power. “We lost 10 years of our lives for nothing. We passed through three wars and suffered with the blockade for what? No electricity now? Barely we get three hours a day. I don’t know what the Egyptian fuel will do for us. I don’t think it will make a difference.”
Booth reported from Jerusalem.