Gaza Running on Near Empty

GAZA CITY - Ayman Eid stands as motionless as his orange Hyundai taxi. Never mind taking a passenger somewhere, Ayman has no idea how he will ever get home.

The queue at the petrol station seems endless. Drivers have run out of petrol even to queue up in their cars; they just queue up themselves, empty cans in hand. Only the lucky leave with a full can by the end of a day.

Others park near petrol stations and sleep in their cars, in hope that an oil truck will turn up some time. The roads are desolate, emptied of transportation and life.

Gaza needs 850,000 litres of fuel every week, says Mahmoud al-Khozendar, vice-president of the Petrol Station Owners Association in Gaza. Israel allows in just 70,000 litres of it. He said Gaza also needs 2.5 million litres of coal gas a week. Only 800,000 litres per week comes in.

Israel has cut fuel and electricity supply since Hamas took control of Gaza strip from the Fatah party in June last year. That was after winning a democratic election in 2006. The cuts have been made more severe after firing of home-made rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory.

For Eid, the waiting has gone on longer than the new Israeli siege. "We have been appealing to the world for 40 years, and for 40 years our daily suffering has gone on. It is endless."

But it has become much harder now. "These days, when the price of every single item is inflated due to the Israeli siege, the gas cuts hurt even more."

And it hurts in all sorts of ways. The students have disappeared from al-Talatini Street by the university. It is hard now to get to the university campus, and if you do, it can be harder getting back home. Thousands of students have not been to class for weeks, particularly those living far south and north.

And at home, there is little study possible in darkness and stink. Without fuel to power it, the sewage system has stopped functioning. Sewage continues to pile up on the streets. The stench gets more unbearable by the day, and health and environmental concerns are mounting.

"We met with the Israelis, and they said that Gaza is a hostile entity," said al-Khozendar. He said that his organisation told Israeli officials that their fuel embargo policy is a violation of the Geneva Convention (in which Article 4 guarantees the rights of a people living under occupation). He said he was reminded that they are better off than are Iraqis under U.S. occupation.

Members of the Petrol Station Owners Association are planning to go on strike, al-Khozendar said. He is meanwhile appealing to the international community to put pressure on Israel to reverse its policies.

A glimmer of hope has arisen from a report in the Egyptian daily al-Ahram that Egyptian oil minister Sameh Fahmi has issued urgent directives for Egyptian gas to be provided to Gaza.

The minister was also reported as saying after a meeting with Omar Kittaneh, the Palestinian Authority official responsible for energy and natural resources, that Egypt would help develop Palestinian gas fields discovered off Gaza's shores. Few in Gaza believe that Israel will let that happen in a hurry. There has been talk of this for two years now, with little action.

Not many miss the irony of this situation. And certainly not a man who walks up to join Ayman Eid in his idleness. "Israel takes Arab oil," he says. "And then refuses to sell it to Arabs."

Copyright (c) 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service

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