Palestinians sit on a chair during the sunset, at the Gaza port, in Gaza City, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Israel turns the power back on to Gaza, reducing cuts to around 18 hours a day

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – There was some small respite for residents of the Gaza Strip on Sunday as Israel restored the electricity it supplies to the Palestinian enclave after a nine-month-long hiatus.

However, even with the boost, homes will only receive around six hours of power a day.

The residents of Gaza have been caught in the middle of a political rift between Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and the rival Hamas leadership in Gaza.

Israel cut off 50 megawatts of electricity to Gaza last year after the Palestinian Authority said it would no longer pick up the bill for power supplied to Hamas territory while the group was running its own shadow government in the strip.

That compounded the misery for residents of Gaza, suffering from stifling Israeli restrictions on goods and freedom of movement, while Egypt has also kept its border crossing largely closed. With the new cut, homes only received three or four hours of electricity a day. There was not enough power for sewage treatment, sending more than 25 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the sea each day.

But stuttering reconciliation efforts, brokered by Egypt, have made some progress, with Hamas saying it is willing to cede political control and dissolve its administration. In October, the two sides signed a reconciliation agreement sponsored by Egypt restore control of Gaza the Palestinian Authority.

A December deadline for power to be handed over slipped by, however, with issues such as whether Hamas can retain security control still major stumbling blocks.

Samira Hamadeh, a mother of three who lives in Gaza City, said that it marked a “big improvement” but that residents need more. “I wish to see electricity for 24 hours,” she said.

Qadura Fares, a senior Fatah official, said President Trump’s announcement that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had spurred efforts to present a united Palestinian front and end a the decade-long rift between the two factions. “Trump’s decision made us very keen to speed up the reconciliation process,” he said.

The power was switched back on after the local electricity company committed to do a better job of collecting bill payments by consumers.

The Gaza Strip relies on three sources of energy that are not enough to meet its needs. The bulk comes from Israel, which supplies a total of 120 megawatts, and about 60 megawatts comes from a power plant that is not fully operational due to fuel shortages. Around 15 to 20 megawatts come from Egypt, but the supply is not stable due to security in the Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

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