Power Play In Gaza


Fuel shipments to the Gaza Strip’s major power plant resumed Wednesday, four days after the plant closed down in response to the European Union’s refusal to continue paying for the fuel without assurances that none of its money was being diverted for other purposes, including terrorism.

But the EU said in a statement that funding would be withdrawn again if an audit it plans to conduct finds any misappropriation of funds.“What the EU was concerned about was corruption, not about rockets” fired by Palestinian terrorists into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said wryly. “It was concerned that Hamas was skimming off money.”

The tip that Hamas might have been pocketing some of the fuel money came from Palestinians in the West Bank, which is controlled by Fatah, Hamas’ rival, according to Yitzchak Reiter, an expert on Islam and Middle Eastern studies and a senior fellow of the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“They found that Gaza headquarters charged some extra tax on the money that the EU was delivering,” he said. The power shutdown cut electricity to about half of the Gaza Strip’s 1.4 million residents. But the outage was only one of a host of problems Hamas has had to contend with since it ousted Fatah from its power-sharing agreement in a bloody takeover in June. Since then, Israel and Egypt have closed their border with Gaza to all but humanitarian supplies and much of the 500 tons of produce Palestinians in Gaza used to export to Israel and Egypt each day has not moved. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that the closures cost the Gazan economy about $9 million.And in an editorial, the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon said this week that Hamas, which won popular support with its vow to end the corruption, nepotism and cronyism that marked Fatah’s rule “now risks falling into the same traps as their political rivals.” It pointed out that Hamas members have “cracked down on political freedoms by either arresting their rivals or purging their ideological opponents from state-run institutions.”

“The Palestinians of Gaza had hoped for a change from Fatah’s old ways, but they are witnessing a new era characterized by more of the same – and sometimes worse,” the paper wrote.

Meanwhile, rocket attacks on Israel continued this week from the Gaza Strip. Two Kassam rockets were fired Wednesday morning, neither causing any damage. But a rocket that fell Tuesday night hit a factory in Sderot, causing some damage but no injuries. And earlier in the day, a Kassam rocket hit an empty nursery school in Sderot that was undergoing fortification work and another landed in the city. One woman was treated for shock; the school sustained some damage.Israel responded with what it described as targeted attacks. It said it killed a senior Hamas field commander in an air strike Wednesday and killed six Hamas gunmen on Monday. On Tuesday, Israel fired a tank shell at two figures moving toward the launching pad from which Kassam rockets had just been fired into Israel. The shell killed the two, who turned out to be youngsters 9 and 12-years-old who had been sent to collect the rocket launchers.

Steinberg said he believes the Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli reprisals will continue unless one of the rockets claims many Israeli casualties, such as killing children in a school.

Reiter noted that Hamas leaders have vowed to use far more dangerous and lethal weapons that have been smuggled in from Egypt and from sea. On Wednesday, the Israeli Navy fire upon and seized four Palestinian boats just off the Gaza coast that were suspected of transporting weapons from Egypt. “One Hamas leader said a few weeks ago that they have longer range missiles and that if Israel resumed attacks on Hamas activists, it would use them,” Reiter said. “There is an internal debate within the Israeli security community regarding the options to deal with Hamas,” he noted. “One option says that Israel should capture again the main places in the Gaza Strip and contain the terror once and for all. Another says the price for such an action would not deliver the dividends [desired]. And some analysts say that should a Kassam fall into a kindergarten or school and kill Israelis, Israel should raid Gaza with a massive operation. Should there be such an attack on a school, the Israeli government would not be able politically to stand unless it did something significant to stop the rocket launchings.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli government touched off a hot debate Sunday with its decision to return to Egypt 48 Africans — including some who fled war-ravaged Darfur — who had slipped into Israel from Egypt. The debate focused on whether Israel, which was founded after the Holocaust, should open its doors to all people fleeing persecution.