Israel has approved a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut by roughly a third the electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip.
The move is aimed at undermining the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the last decade.
But the decision reached Sunday by Israel’s security Cabinet is stoking concern that it could trigger a humanitarian crisis among Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians and a new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel.
In a statement on Monday afternoon responding to news of the Israeli decision, Hamas said that power cuts are “dangerous” and would lead to an “explosion.”
Gaza already suffers from chronic power shortages, which affect businesses, household water supply, sewage treatment and hospital services. The daily residential supply of electricity fell from 12 hours to four hours this year after Abbas cut funding for power and the fuel to run Gaza’s lone power plant. Families in Gaza have been holding iftar, the meal to break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, by candlelight.
The new cuts would reduce the daily electricity supply to between two and three hours. The approval by Israel follows an announcement by Abbas’ Western-backed Palestinian Authority in April that it was cutting back its purchase of power for Gaza by $12 million a month.
It remained unclear when the cuts would take effect.
Mohammed Azaizeh, a Gaza-based fieldworker for Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that called any new cuts a “red line,” said that electricity shortages stir up anger as much toward Israel and the Palestinian Authority as they do toward Hamas.
“People won’t be patient for much longer,” he said. “Something bad will happen for all parties, especially for Israel.”
Eid Siyan, a potato farmer in Gaza, said his family uses an electric generator to power lights in his home at night. Meanwhile, income from his business is dropping because no one has money to buy his crops.
“We are hoping for a solution,” Siyan said by telephone. “It’s the worst time of my life. There is no electricity, no work, and no future. You can’t expect anything in the future.”
Israel and Egypt have been tightly controlling access to the Gaza Strip for years to weaken Hamas. The Palestinian Authority has moved to further isolate the militant group.
In addition to funding for electricity, Abbas has also cut salaries for civil servants.
Hamas is also likely to be harmed by the decision last week by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on the nation of Qatar, which has provided Hamas financial and political support.
Israel, meanwhile, has started to build a subterranean barrier around Gaza to make it more difficult for Islamic militants to use cross-border attack tunnels as they did in 2014, when the two sides fought a seven-week war in which more than 2,000 Gazans and several dozen Israeli soldiers were killed. The war also caused several billions of dollars in damage to Gaza’s economy.
Israeli officials say that the government fears an outbreak of fighting with Hamas in the coming weeks and that Hamas has been diverting equipment and money flowing to Gaza to finance a military buildup.
Government ministers said that although Israel has an interest in averting a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the nation won’t intervene on Hamas’ behalf and foot the electricity bill that the Palestinian Authority refuses to pay.
“I don’t think that anyone in the world will expect us to be on Hamas’ side,” Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant told journalists Monday. “Hamas is the enemy, not the solution.”
Mitnick is a special correspondent.