UN says Gazans being held hostage to Palestinian feud


Jerusalem (AFP)

The United Nations said Wednesday that Gazans were being held hostage to Palestinian political infighting, warning that longer blackouts triggered by president Mahmud Abbas threatened a "total collapse" of basic services.

Gazans currently receive only three to four hours of mains electricity a day, delivered from the territory's own power station and others in Israel and Egypt.

Israel decided on Sunday to reduce the amount of electricity it supplies to Gaza by between 45 and 60 minutes a day after Abbas cut funding for it by his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

The move was widely seen as an attempt by the Palestinian leader to step up pressure on his rivals in the Islamist movement Hamas which runs Gaza.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied territories, Robert Piper, warned the additional power cuts would have a disastrous effect.

"A further increase in the length of blackouts is likely to lead to a total collapse of basic services, including critical functions in the health, water and sanitation sectors," Piper said in a statement.

"The people in Gaza should not be held hostage to this longstanding internal Palestinian dispute," he said.

Hamas has run Gaza since 2007, when it seized the territory from Abbas loyalists in a dispute over parliamentary elections swept by the Islamist movement the previous year.

Multiple attempts at reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah movement have failed, but his Palestinian Authority has continued to pay Israel for some electricity delivered to Gaza.

The prospect of even lengthier blackouts in Gaza has raised fears of a new upsurge in violence. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel had "no interest in an escalation," blaming internal Palestinian disputes for the crisis.

Hamas said the cut was made on Abbas's orders and termed it "a catastrophe".

"This decision aggravates the situation and risks an explosion in the Gaza Strip," it said on Monday.

But on Wednesday Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman dismissed the idea of a humanitarian crisis in the tiny enclave of some two million people.

"It is clear the Gaza Strip is not Switzerland, but there is no humanitarian crisis," he said, citing the "hundreds" of trucks delivering goods each day.