Gaza runs out of electricity as Israel's total siege bites

Other essential services also expected to crumble as full impact of Israel's total blockade begins to be felt

Palestinians leave Al Karama neighbourhood in Gaza city for safer areas. AFP
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The Gaza Strip's only power plant ran out of fuel on Wednesday, two days after Israel announced a "total siege" in the blockaded Palestinian enclave, leaving residents reliant on generators that account for less than a quarter of the electricity produced in the territory.

Gaza's Energy and Natural Resources Authority Dhafer Melhem said on Tuesday that the plant had only about 400,000 litres of fuel left - enough for one day. By Wednesday afternoon, Gaza had run out of power.

"Israel has threatened to bomb the plant if more fuel is brought in, including from Egypt," Mr Melhem said in comments to Palestinian state news agency Wafa.

Israel declared a "total blockade" of Gaza after the Hamas group that rules the territory launched thousands of rockets and sent hundreds of fighters into southern Israel in a surprise attack on Saturday that killed more than 1,200 people, including around 170 soldiers. Israel declared war the following day, mobilising around 300,000 soldiers within 48 hours of the attack.

It cut off the 120 megawatts of electricity it supplies to Gaza, as well as water, leaving the enclave dependent on one oil-fired plant, that was low on fuel.

Soon after, Gaza's electricity distribution company sounded the alarm about its dwindling fuel supplies that would lead to a powerpower cut across the strip, causing widespread repercussions after Israel announced a total siege of the already blockaded enclave on Monday.

The power company said it has been "impossible" to supply electricity to some areas due to extensive damage to electricity networks.

On Tuesday, head of Gaza's Energy and Natural Resources Authority Dhafer Melhem said he expected the only power plant in Gaza to stop working on Thursday.

That means the Gaza strip can provide only 80 megawatts of energy, of which 65 would come from the plant and the remainder from generators.

The power plant has been bombed on at least three occasions, including in 2006, 2008 and 2014.

Medical efforts

Power cuts are already having an impact on medical and rescue efforts.

Palestinian Red Crescent Society spokeswoman Nibal Farsakh said paramedics were having trouble looking for people under the rubble, especially at night.

"This puts them at great risk, too, because of the complete blackout."

Additionally, with the closure of all crossings into Israel, the wounded are unable to receive the treatment they need, he said, as the death toll climbs to 950 people and the number of injured surpasses 5,000 on the fifth day of consecutive fighting between Hamas and Israel.

"There are no more empty beds" across hospitals, Gaza's ministry of health said on Wednesday, as the Gaza Strip also runs out of medicine and medical supplies.

Some hospitals still have solar systems or generators but they need fuel to keep them running which is expected to run out at any moment, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday.

Food supplies

"The situation right now is incredibly devastating and we are really alarmed by what's happening because food, electricity and fuel are about to run out in Gaza," said WFP Palestine communications officer Alia Zaki, from the West Bank.

Speaking to The National, the World Food Programme said its supplies are expected to last for one week.

The WFP has a network of more than 300 shops, where people can go to redeem their cash assistance and buy food items.

"Half the shops reported that within a week they'll completely run out of food stocks. And with the electricity running out, the food they do have runs the risks of spoiling," she said.

The WFP and other humanitarian organisations have called for a humanitarian corridor to be set up immediately .

"We have already made plans to reroute all the food stocks that we're supposed to receive to come through Egypt, so that we can establish a corridor from Egypt to Gaza, because there's no way else in," Ms Zaki said.

"All the other ways that we used to use [to bring in assistance] are completely blocked."

Economic and Social Rights researcher with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Fadhel Al Muzaini has become also displaced.

He returned to his home in Al Rimal, where he found the building he used to live in had "turned into rubble".

Mr Al Muzaini warned of further crises.

"If the fuel runs out, so does the ability for water treatment plants to operate.

"This means untreated water could be transferred back on to the streets or the sea, leaving room for waterborne diseases to spread."

Humanitarian corridors

Egypt said it is negotiating the creation of safe corridors in the Gaza Strip to send humanitarian aid to the enclave, Egyptian officials said.

The WFP said it is in talks with "all stakeholders" about bringing in aid through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Already, Jordan and several Gulf Arab countries are preparing to send aid to Egypt for delivery to Gaza.

This comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the opposition leader's Benny Gantz on Wednesday formed a unity government and a war cabinet to see Israel through the war with Hamas.

Mr Gantz had made the formation of the war cabinet conditional on the exclusion of several far right ministers in Mr Netanyahu's cabinet.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 4:15 AM