Hamas holds dozens of drivers in Gaza power crisis

IBRAHIM BARZAK
March 26, 2012
A fuel tanker arrives at Gaza's main power plant in Nusseirat, central Gaza, Friday, March 23, 2012.  Small amounts of Israeli fuel were trucked into the Gaza Strip on Friday, slightly easing an energy crisis provoked by a cut-off of Egyptian fuel, Palestinian and Israeli officials said. (AP photo/Hatem Moussa)
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A fuel tanker arrives at Gaza's main power plant in Nusseirat, central Gaza, Friday, March 23, 2012. Small amounts of Israeli fuel were trucked into the Gaza Strip on Friday, slightly easing an energy crisis provoked by a cut-off of Egyptian fuel, Palestinian and Israeli officials said. (AP photo/Hatem Moussa)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Police in Hamas-ruled Gaza have detained dozens of taxi drivers for allegedly spreading "rumors" about the territory's worst power crisis in years, officials said Monday,

The detentions, which began over the weekend, signaled that the Islamic militant Hamas is increasingly concerned about the political fallout from crippling shortages of fuel and electricity.

Authorities did not explain what got the drivers in trouble, beyond saying the "rumors" had to do with the energy crisis.

However, residents say there's growing talk among Gazans that Hamas is keeping separate supplies of fuel for its government and loyalists, a claim Hamas denies.

At the root of the two-month-old crisis is a standoff between Hamas and neighboring Egypt over the delivery and payment for fuel.

Fuel smuggled from Egypt through tunnels under the border used to be the main source of energy for Gaza, including the territory's only power station that provides 60 percent of the electricity.

Hamas now wants Egypt to deliver fuel to Gaza through a passage above ground, trying to establish a precedent Hamas hopes could evolve into a full-fledged trade route with Egypt.

Egypt is fearful such a link would be seen as absolving Israel, Gaza's longtime occupier, of its responsibility for territory. Despite a 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, Israel continues to control access by air, land and sea. Egypt wants to route any future fuel shipments through Israel and insists at selling it at international prices. Hamas is searching for fuel subsidies from Arab countries.

A solution to the standoff is not in sight. As a result of the shortages, Gaza's power station has been offline most of the time since Feb. 10, leading to rolling 18-hour-a-day blackouts.

The Health Ministry said fuel supplies for hospital generators will only last until Thursday. Working hours in outpatient clinics have been reduced, 60 percent of ambulances are grounded and non-emergency surgeries have been rescheduled, the ministry said.

Patients in intensive care at Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest health facility, have less reason for worry. About a month ago, solar panels donated by an Italian group were installed on the roof, providing electricity for machines attached to five of the 15 beds in the ICU, hospital officials said.