Monday, December 16, 2013

40.000 Palestinians in Gaza evacuated from their homes due to heavy flooding and lack of electricity and fuel

Dear friends,

due to being at a political conference for the last four days,  I have not had the chance to post any commentary on the current situation in Gaza. 

As most of you will be aware, there is widespread flooding, which has resulted with up to 40,000 people being evacuated from their homes. In the last few weeks, Gaza has also been without electricity and fuel due to Israel's continuing blockade and this has resulted in tens of thousands of gallons of sewage being spilling into the streets (see my previous post on this here). It is also bitterly cold in Palestine at the moment, with widespread snowfalls across Palestine and other parts of the Middle East, so the people of Gaza who were already facing a humanitarian crisis are faced with even more difficulties and hardships.

I have included below a report from Palestinian News Agency, Maan News on the situation in Gaza, as an article by Israeli veteran journalist Amira Hass and one from the Associated Press.

The situation in Gaza highlights the need more than ever to step up political pressure on the Israeli state to abide by international law and for us to demand freedom and justice for the Palestinian people and an end to Israeli occupation and apartheid. 

Please support and get involved in the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and demand Israel end its blockade and siege of Gaza and its occupation and apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.

In solidarity, Kim


MAAN NEWS, 14 December 2013

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Gaza Ministry of Information announced Saturday that the numbers of residents staying in shelters in the besieged coastal enclave had hit 5,000 as streets and homes remain flooded in large swathes of the territory.

Separately, the Gaza Health Ministry said that the number of people injured in storm-related incidents over the last four days throughout Gaza had hit 96 on Saturday, after flooding hit dangerously high levels due to record rainfall on Friday.

Gaza's civil defense force media spokesperson Muhammad al-Midna told Ma'an that civil defense teams had successfully evacuated 1,190 people from their homes since the beginning of the storm, in addition to pumping water out of flooded homes and rescuing cars trapped on flooded streets.

Al-Midna said that the hardest hit neighborhood was Nafeq Street near Sheikh Redwan, which was inundated with flood water and led to a dramatic rise in water levels in the surrounding areas.

The civil defense forces assisted many local residents in evacuating their homes, he said.

Al-Midna added that the lack of electricity had exacerbated the difficulties faced by Gaza residents as it limited the ability of civil defense forces to pump water from flooded areas.

He highlighted that blackouts of over 12 consecutive hours and the lack of fuel to run generators during those blackouts had effectively crippled the ability of civil defense forces to respond for large periods of time.

On Saturday evening director of the Gaza Ministry of Information Salama Maarouf said in a report that 5,000 Gaza residents had fled their homes for shelters, where Hamas officials were providing many with bedding and other needs.

The Health Ministry had announced earlier in Saturday afternoon that 2,234 individuals from 433 families were staying in shelters, which are primarily located in schools across the Strip.

At that time, they said that many of those arriving were being brought by civil defense forces, who on Saturday continued assisting residents "day and night" in order to help them evacuate their flooded homes.

The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.

Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.

The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.

The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.

Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.

Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.

Gaza Strip receives fuel after battered by storm
By Associated Press, Published: December 15

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip received its first shipment of industrial fuel in 45 days on Sunday, bringing much-needed relief to the coastal territory after a winter storm dumped rare snow across the region.

The storm, which began late Wednesday and saw temperatures dip below freezing, crippled the city of Jerusalem and leaving thousands without power in Israel and the neighboring West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as the worst storm in decades. It dumped up to 60 centimeters (two feet) of snow on Jerusalem, a huge amount for a city that often goes entire winters without a snowstorm. Temperatures at this time of year are usually about 10 to 15 degrees (50 to 60 F), and just two weeks ago had hovered around 20 degrees C (70 F). Gaza, located on the Mediterranean coast, experienced its first snowfall in some 20 years, but most of the damage was caused by flooding.

A lack of fuel has hampered rescue efforts in Gaza, where an estimated 40,000 residents fled flooded homes. The storm let up Sunday, but authorities in the region still struggled to clear roads and repair downed power lines.

Gaza has suffered from chronic fuel shortages since the Hamas militant group seized power in 2007, prompting Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade on the territory. But the situation has worsened since a coup in neighboring Egypt last July. The country’s new military rulers have tightened the blockade and destroyed a network of smuggling tunnels that were used to ship cheap fuel into the territory.

While the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank can send fuel to Gaza through Israel, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have refused to accept the shipments, saying they cannot afford a new tax.

Palestinian border official Raed Fattouh said Sunday’s Israeli fuel shipment was paid for by Qatar, an oil rich Gulf country that has aided Hamas in the past. Officials said Gazans would now have roughly 12 hours of electricity a day, up from the recent level of six hours. The storm has come at a difficult time for Gaza. Recurring power outages have led to the suspension of many health care programs and services, including waste water treatment. Overwhelmed sewage facilities have been forced to dump untreated waste into the Mediterranean, and long lines are often formed outside bakeries while people wait to buy bread.

Despite the blockade, Israel over the weekend sent diesel fuel for heating and four water pumps as a humanitarian gesture.

Hamas authorities said roughly 40,000 people were forced to flee their homes as a result of flooding. Most were able to stay with relatives, but the United Nations said about 10,000 people sought shelter in schools and other public buildings.

On Sunday, residents began returning to their homes to inspect damage and repair what they could, fixing leaky roofs, windows and cracks in the walls, and trying to remove water from homes.

“It’s time for hard work, to restart our lives again,” said Ihab Saed, 23, whose family’s small home was damaged by rainwater and sewage.

One man died from smoke inhalation after burning coal for warmth in his house, health officials said.

Israel also was reeling from the weekend storm. Some 14,000 homes remained without power, the Israel Electric Corp. said.

By Sunday afternoon, Israel managed to open the two main highways in and out of Jerusalem, and limited bus service was restored inside the city. Authorities urged motorists to stay off the roads, and public transportation was expected to be halted after nightfall as temperatures, which had risen to about 10 degrees (50 F), dropped back toward the freezing point.

“This morning I want to go to work but I can’t because you see all the ice on the streets. I can’t move my car,” said Jerusalem resident Itzchak Haringman, who helped push a taxi out of the snow before hopping in.

Four Israelis were killed in weather-related incidents, police said. Schools were closed in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The storm also caused heavy disruptions in the West Bank, where roads were blocked and electricity was out for two or three days in many areas. In Ramallah, officials said one woman was forced to give birth in a municipal car trying to take her to the hospital. Municipal workers had to carry another woman in labor on a stretcher for one kilometer (half a mile) to get her to an ambulance, said spokesman Yousif Shayeb.

“Electricity connects you to the world. We lived two days without electricity and felt we were disconnected from the world. No TV, no Internet, no radio,” said Fida Naser a university student from the town of Dora in southern West Bank.

In Bethlehem, the snow gave the traditional birthplace of Jesus a Christmas atmosphere. “I took my seven-year-old boy, Adam, and made a snow man, and played with the kids of our neighborhood,” said Haneen Ayesh, a 24-year-old woman.

“The best view ever in my life is seeing the snow covering the courtyard of the Nativity Church and the Christmas tree,” she said.

In neighboring Jordan, King Abdullah II caused a stir by showing up to help push a car out of the snow Saturday. The king stopped his black SUV to help a stranded motorist, shocking his security guards, who scrambled to keep curious onlookers away from him. Amateur video showed a crowd cheering Abdullah, who wore boots and a red-and-white checkered head dress. 
Associated Press writers Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.
Gaza floods, thousands evacuated - but get reprieve from blackouts
West Bank loses power; Energy Dept. promises to limit Gaza brownouts to 8 hours a day, instead of the usual 16.

By Amira Hass | Dec. 15, 2013 |Haaretz

Thousands of Gazans were evacuated from their homes over the weekend because of the flooding caused by the storm that covered the Middle East in snow, rain and hail.

But as they take shelter in schools in the north of the Strip, Gazans are learning that the storm clouds have a silver lining. They are being given a three-month reprieve from their daily 16-hour blackouts, which have nothing to do with the storm.

Following indirect negotiations between the Hamas government in Gaza and the Fatah government in the West Bank, Qatar will be donating $10 million to supply the Gaza Strip’s power plant with enough fuel to last three months, starting this week.

The plant providing one-third of the Gaza's electricity has been out of commission for six weeks because the Hamas government has refused to pay the fuel tax of 30 agorot (9 cents) per liter to the government in Ramallah, which buys the fuel from Israel.

With Gaza’s 16-hour blackouts temporarily suspended, the energy department has also promised to limit brownouts to eight hours a day.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Mekorot water utility said it acceded to a request by the Palestinian Authority, via the United Nations, to send four water pumps to Gaza to help control the flooding.

Gaza officials blamed Israel for the flooding, saying it caused Wadi Gaza to overflow and flood residential neighborhoods by opening dams outside the Strip. Palestinian sources said these dams normally keep the water level in Gaza low.

Nehemia Shahaf, the Israeli municipal official responsible for the drainage system in part of the northern Negev, said there was one dam in the area, a one-meter cement structure in the Tze’elim area that directs water to a reservoir in Israeli territory, but that it could not be opened or closed. Shahaf said the water level was so high that the dam couldn’t stop it from reaching Gaza.

Not much of the water goes to the reservoir because most of it seeps into the ground beforehand, Shahaf added.

In the West Bank, several dozen families who live in tents or metal shacks in the southern Hebron Hills, where they have been refused permission to build more permanent housing, were evacuated to nearby Yatta or other towns.

The power was out in most parts of Ramallah, El Bireh and Bethlehem, as well as East Jerusalem. A spokesman for the Palestinian electric company said most of the power failures were caused by Israel, where more than 20,000 households had no power as of Saturday night.

Municipal authorities began plowing the main roads in the West Bank, but no government ministries were open in the West Bank on Sunday. There was no school Sunday in the West Bank or Gaza.

Over the last few years, the Gaza Strip has largely relied on the fuel coming in from Egypt through the cross-border smuggling tunnels under Rafah. The Hamas government prefers to buy fuel from Egypt; not only does it cost less, it fits the philosophy of minimizing reliance on the PA and Israel.

But since Egypt demolished hundreds of smuggling tunnels earlier this year, the Hamas government has become more dependent on the fuel that comes from Israel.The Gaza Strip uses about 120 megawatts of electricity purchased from Israel and about 27 megawatts from Egypt.

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