Thursday, March 08, 2012

Hamas is limiting cooking gas to Gaza too

Not only has Hamas created an electricity crisis in Gaza by refusing diesel fuel from Israel, but they are also now starting to limit the amount of cooking gas in Gaza, a critical commodity.

Israel's COGAT has been supplying about 900 tons of cooking gas a week, but last week that amount went down to 331 tons.

As a result, there were huge lines of people to get cooking gas in recent days - and Hamas blamed Israel.

But it turns out that Hamas is the party restricting the fuel:

Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli military's civilian administration, said the Hamas government in Gaza was refusing to accept the full amount of fuel Israel is willing to send.

Inbar said he was aware that the shortages were causing problems in Gaza. "We spoke with senior (Palestinian Authority) people" about increasing the gas shipments. "It all depends on Hamas," he said.

The official said he was not familiar with any new plan to increase gas imports.
Why is Hamas doing this? A Reuters article goes a long way towards explaining it. Hamas has been increasing taxes to pay for its hold on power - and it doesn't get revenue from fuel crossing from Israel:

Traders who import goods from Israel and the West Bank say Hamas authorities have introduced additional fees beyond the usual tax they collect, putting their businesses at risk and threatening the livelihoods of thousands of workers.

Hamas says the increase in levies is meant to protect homegrown products. But local analysts believe the group has been forced to tighten the fiscal screws at home because of a drop in funding from foreign allies, notably Iran.

The latest levies follow additional fees slapped on four commodities much in demand that pass from Egypt through a warren of smuggling tunnels; those have been raised to 20 shekels for a ton of cement, 10 shekels for a tonne of gravel, 1.4 shekels for a liter of fuel and 50 shekels for each ton of steel.

"Tunnel owners protested for one day, but in the end they resumed work because the Hamas government rejected their demand to cancel the tax," tunnel owner Abu Islam told Reuters. But he added that some merchants simply canceled their shipments.

The fiscal demands suggests that Hamas, which is spurned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence, is struggling to make ends meet.

According to its opaque 2011 budget, Hamas' budget for Gaza was estimated at $769 million, with revenues raised locally expected to amount to $150 million.

Foreign donations from various allies make up much of the shortfall, with Iran believed to have been the major contributor. But diplomats say Tehran has closed the taps in retaliation at Hamas' refusal to back their embattled ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hamas ditched Assad last month, publicly supporting the Syrian revolt.

Western officials say Hamas' need for tax revenues is also at the heart of the ongoing power crisis.

Hamas came to rely heavily on fuel smuggled into Gaza from neighboring Egypt, but Cairo halted the trade in February, apparently annoyed that subsidized diesel earmarked for Egyptians was being siphoned off into Gaza.

Critics say Hamas has refused to diversify its supplies because it was able to impose high levies on the illicit Egyptian oil. Fuel imported legally via Israel is handled by Abbas' Palestinian Authority, which imposes its own levies, preventing Hamas from adding any further surcharges.

"The reason for this crisis is ridiculous and has to do with Hamas insisting on not buying from (Abbas's) Palestinian Authority via Israel," the NGO official said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of her dealings with Hamas.

"When fuel is procured from the tunnels, Hamas implements its own tax system, therefore generating its own revenue."

There have been no street protests over the blackouts because Hamas cracks down on them, but the fury is apparent on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter, with a barrage of complaint over electricity cuts lasting 18 hours a day.
I have yet to see any international NGO, out of the scores that work in Gaza, publicly condemning Hamas for creating a completely artificial crisis. (One Palestinian Arab NGO's head mentioned it...and got an arrest warrant.) Which just goes to show how much they really prioritize the lives of Gazans when they might lose their own revenue.