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UN fears Gaza energy crisis could spark fresh violence

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The United Nations warned Friday that an energy crisis in the Gaza Strip was severely affecting water supplies and health services, and could trigger an outbreak of violence.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, “all have obligations for the welfare of Gaza’s residents.”

A power plant which supplies 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity stopped functioning on April 16 after a dispute broke out between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over taxation on fuel.

The Palestinians have also decided to cap purchases of electricity from Israel, a decision that would further reduce the power supply to Gaza by some 30 percent.

Currently, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are receiving about four hours of electricity per day.

“How long do you think they can survive if this is further reduced to two hours of electricity per day?” Mladenov told the council, speaking via video uplink from Jerusalem.

“Who will pay the price of the ensuing violence and escalation?”

Hospitals have been forced to postpone surgeries, and desalination plants are functioning at 15 percent of capacity, providing drinking water for a few hours every two to four days, Mladenov said.

The envoy said that 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage was being discharged into the Mediterranean every day because treatment plants are unable to fully operate.

This is “an environmental disaster for Israel, Egypt and Gaza in the making,” said Mladenov.

The United Nations has set up an emergency fuel operation to help maintain essential services for water, health and sanitation, but “our reserves will run out in the coming weeks,” he warned.

The envoy told the Security Council that “unless urgent measures are taken to de-escalate, the crisis risks spiraling out of control with devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

The Islamist Hamas movement seized power in Gaza in 2007 from the Ramallah-based Fatah organization of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

A mooted power-sharing agreement in the Strip has failed to materialize, and Gaza residents have been subjected to a decade-long Israeli blockade, severely limiting supplies.

The Gaza Strip has been torn by three wars since 2008 — the latest one in 2014 that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

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