Abbas stops funding Gaza electricity to pressure Hamas

Associated PressMohammed Daraghmeh

The West Bank-based government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will stop paying for electricity in the power-starved Gaza Strip and "dry up" the flow of funds to the territory's Hamas rulers, a senior official said Wednesday.

In this Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 file photo, a Palestinian family warm themselves up with a fire outside their makeshift house during a power cut in a poor neighborhood in town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. The West Bank-based Palestinian autonomy government will stop paying for electricity in the power-starved Gaza Strip and "dry up" the flow of funds to the territory's Hamas rulers, a senior official said Wednesday. The Islamic militant Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, driving out forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra, File)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The West Bank-based government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will stop paying for electricity in the power-starved Gaza Strip and "dry up" the flow of funds to the territory's Hamas rulers, a senior official said Wednesday.

Hamas accused the Abbas government of irresponsible behavior and warned that the announced cuts would be disastrous for Gaza's 2 million residents.

Abbas and Hamas have led rival governments since the Islamic militant group seized Gaza in 2007, driving out forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian president.

After several failed reconciliation attempts, Abbas recently said he would pressure Hamas financially to force it to cede ground. The Palestinian leader was to meet Wednesday at the White House with President Donald Trump to discuss ways of restarting long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Steps against Hamas could bolster Abbas' claims that he speaks for all Palestinians.

In the West Bank, a senior official said the Abbas government would stop paying for the electricity Israel sends to Gaza, worth at least $11 million a month.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Civil Affairs Department, said Hamas profits because it collects electricity payments from Gaza residents. "We are not going to continue financing the Hamas coup in Gaza," he told the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Al-Sheikh said the aim was to "dry up Hamas' financial resources." He said efforts would be made not to harm services to Gaza residents, but did not explain how that would be possible.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Abbas of siding with Israel in trying to punish Hamas.

"Today, Abbas put himself in a confrontation with the Palestinian people," Barhoum said. "Its consequences will be catastrophic and disastrous, not only for Hamas, as they think, but for all Gazans."

Gaza residents have been enduring worsening power cuts — a result of border blockades by Israel and Egypt that were triggered by the Hamas takeover. Residents currently live with rolling blackouts — six hours on, 12 hours off — that have further crippled an economy devastated by conflict.

Israel supplies electricity from 10 power lines that cover about 30 percent of Gaza's needs. Israel deducts the money from the taxes and customs it collects on behalf of the Abbas government. Egypt provides some electricity, but supplies are less reliable.

Israel last week announced the Abbas government's intention to stop paying for Gaza electricity. Al-Sheikh's comments marked the first official Palestinian confirmation.

Ahmed Majdalani, an Abbas aide, said that as a next step, the West Bank government would sharply reduce the amount of medicine it ships to Gaza every month. Majdalani alleged that Hamas is "selling the medicine and collecting the money."

He said that only "necessary medicine" would be sent directly to Gaza hospitals.

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