Israel tells UN Gaza faces an ‘impending humanitarian crisis’

Israel Defence Forces blames Hamas for Palestinian enclave’s worsening infrastructure problems and calls for funding from the international community 

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The Independent Online

A top commander in the Israeli army has written to the United Nations to warn that the Gaza Strip is on the brink of a water and electricity crisis.

Major General Yoav Mordechai, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian Territories, sent letters to several international bodies including the UN’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, to say that urgent action is needed to prevent the situation for civilians from deteriorating.

Around 96 per cent of Gaza’s water is not fit for drinking, with its only aquifer no longer fit for purpose thanks to overuse, and the area is also crippled by electricity blackouts. During the winter months, some areas were only receiving three hours of continuous power a day.

The warning is the second that Maj Gen Mordechai has issued in the last six months, calling for funding from international aid organisations and governments to alleviate the severe infrastructure issues. 

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“If the situation is not solved in the next few days, it is possible electricity generation will come to a halt and the residents of Gaza will face the serious implications and pay the price,” Maj Gen Mordechai also wrote on his personal Facebook page.

While the area has always had to contend with unreliable power, in recent months the issue has reached crisis levels, with hospitals warning that the frequent cuts endanger patients’ lives, and the rest of Gaza’s two million inhabitants dealing with the cold and dark of winter conditions. 

Some have resorted to burning coal and scrap wood indoors or using old, unreliable kerosene heaters.

Since the water supply to many households relies on electric pumps, many people are also having difficulty washing, showering, cooking and doing laundry.

Hamas, the militant organisation that governs the area, has contributed to the situation by disrupting the electricity supply to a new desalination plant operated by Unicef, Maj Gen Mordechai continued.

“Instead of worrying about the welfare of residents, Hamas is harming them and making it difficult for the international organisation that worked hard to supply drinking water,” he wrote. 

“Hamas must immediately provide needed electricity to operate the desalination plant for the good of residents, but instead the terrorist organisation has chosen to send electricity to its terror tunnels and the homes of its leaders.”

Hamas buys diesel to run Gaza’s only power plant from Israel, but the group has accused the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, which coordinates delivery, of driving up prices through unfair taxation.

While Israel has approved both a new high-voltage power line to the area to operate desalination plants, as well as a natural gas pipeline for electricity, both initiatives will take years to complete. 

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah, the main PA party based in the West Bank, in 2007, leading to a land and sea blockade by Israel which has made it difficult to import goods and services and aggravated power shortages. 

Palestinians have difficulty sourcing cement mixture and other necessary building materials to shore up Gaza’s inadequate public infrastructure because of Israeli fears they could have a dual use in creating tunnels used by militants.

The July 2014 war, which the UN estimates destroyed 17,000 homes, exacerbated the situation.