- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2008

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Doctors at Shifa Hospital, the primary health care center in Gaza, say they will soon be forced to make hard choices as to which life-saving equipment — incubators or dialysis machines — must be shut down as the hospital’s generators run out of fuel.

Red Cross and Gaza Health Ministry officials said the fuel tanks at Shifa and other hospitals would run dry within a day or two as Gaza endures a blackout caused by Israel’s halt of fuel supplies to the territory. The shutdown of Gaza’s main power plant sent raw sewage flowing through streets and left one-third of its 1.5 million people without electricity in their homes.

Responding to international appeals, Israel yesterday said it would allow the European Union to make a one-time delivery of a week’s worth of fuel to the main power plant in Gaza, which supplies the hospital. Delivery of the fuel and some other humanitarian goods was expected today.

In New York, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad urged Israeli officials to consider the consequences of their actions for Palestinians.

“We do believe that rocket attacks against Israel are unacceptable,” Mr. Khalilzad told reporters. “But when Israel defends itself, it has to take the impact on the civilians into account.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak imposed the fuel cutoff on Friday to pressure the governing Hamas movement to halt an escalating barrage of rocket fire into Israel. The power plant exhausted its fuel reserves and shut down on Sunday.

The blackout also affected Gaza’s 12 primary health care centers and 52 clinics, sending the Health Ministry and patients into a panic.

“We do not have enough diesel to operate our generators or spare parts to fix them because of the siege, which will have dire consequences on the lives of patients lying inside operating and delivery rooms,” said Medhat Abbas, director general of crisis management at the Health Ministry.

The power outage also has meant no running water for thousands of Gazans who live in high-rise buildings. Water and sewage treatment plants are failing and raw sewage up to 8 inches deep is flowing through the streets of Asqoula, in Gaza City.

Some Israeli officials have accused Hamas of exaggerating the crisis in order to garner international sympathy.

“These are media spins by interested parties. We did not cut back on electricity and don’t intend to do so at this point,” a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces was quoted as saying.

“The Palestinians are, in fact, the ones who shut down power for several hours a day in a bid to create a crisis. … If there is a shortage of fuel oil at the power plants, they should ask themselves what happened to the supply they received,” he said.

EU officials charged with addressing Gaza’s humanitarian needs acknowledged that two-thirds of Gaza continues to receive power from Israel and Egypt over land lines but said the grid is not sophisticated enough for that power to be transferred to the areas served by the disabled power plant, including the hospital.

“There are statements of sincere intent by Israel not to create a humanitarian crisis, but that is precisely what is happening,” said John Ging, director of U.N. Relief and Works Agency operations in Gaza. “To suggest there are reserves here or that there is an exaggeration is ridiculous. The evidence is the blackout of Gaza City. …

“These actions against the civilian population to try and change the behavior of militants are unjustified and illegal,” Mr. Ging said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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