GAZA (Reuters) - Two trucks brought fuel across Israel’s border into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in a Qatari- and U.N.-backed effort to ease conditions in the enclave and stem any escalation in Palestinian-Israeli violence.
The shipment was a potential slap to the Western-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which opposed the foreign relief plan. Gaza is controlled by Abbas’s rival, the Islamist Hamas group, and the Palestinian president has been using economic pressure in order to wrest back control.
Under a blockade by Israel and Egypt designed to isolate Hamas, Gaza has plunged into poverty. Over the last half year it has seen weekly, often violent Palestinian border protests and lethal counter-fire by the Israeli military.
“The Secretary-General expresses his deep appreciation to the Government of Qatar for its $60 million contribution, which made this delivery possible and will allow its continuation for the coming months,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.
Each of the two trucks entering Gaza carried some 35,000 litres of fuel and seven more trucks are expected on Wednesday, Dujarric said. Qatar’s donation is intended to provide fuel to Gaza’s power plant for six months, local sources said.
The cash-starved plant has been providing Gazans with only around four hours of electricity daily.
The United States’ Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, tweeted: “The U.S. appreciates the efforts of the U.N., Egypt, Qatar and Israel to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza and efforts to achieve the goal of an enduring ceasefire.”
A spokesman for the Abbas-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, voiced disapproval of the fuel delivery.
“Any international financial aid to the Gaza Strip should be through, or with the coordination of, the Palestinian government,” he said, in order “to preserve Palestinian unity” and to stop any plans to separate Gaza from the West Bank.
A Qatari official, speaking to Reuters on Sunday, said Doha planned to help with Gaza’s power crisis “at the request of donor states in the United Nations, to prevent an escalation of the existing humanitarian disaster”.
Israel’s energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, told Reuters on Monday that Qatar “was trying to help” prevent a Gaza flare-up.
Steinitz accused Abbas, who has restricted funding for Gaza, of “seeking to make gains on two counts: by encouraging a conflict in which Israel will clobber Hamas and over which he will then be able to clobber Israel on the world stage”.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
Months of Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks between Hamas and Abbas have been held up by power-sharing disputes.
“Abbas believes that if he keeps the Gaza closure tight, it will make Hamas accept his reconciliation plan, which would give the Abbas government full control - or the people in Gaza will launch a revolution against Hamas,” said Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri.
“This is making it easy for others to bypass the Palestinian Authority ... They are trying to give them (Gazans) a sedative, sometimes through Egypt, and this time through Israel.”
Palestinians launched the border protests on March 30 to demand an easing of the Gaza blockade and the right of return to lands that Palestinian families fled or were driven from on Israel’s founding in 1948.
Israeli forces have killed at least 195 Palestinians since. Israel has lost a soldier to a Gaza sniper and tracts of forest and farmland to fires set in cross-border incendiary attacks.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Dan Williams and Ori Lewis, Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones