A political fight between Egypt, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is to blame for fuel shortages that have led to a major electricity crisis in Gaza, sources told AFP on Monday.
Gaza has long suffered power outages, but the problem has spiralled in recent months, with hospitals warning they face disaster and residents forced to endure rolling blackouts lasting up to 18 hours a day.
At the root of the problem, according to officials and sources on all sides, is a political tug-of-war involving Gaza's Hamas rulers, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, and the Egyptian authorities.
But Gaza health officials have warned that the situation was spiralling out of control and that hospitals in the territory were only days away from running out of fuel.
On Sunday, Gaza's sole power plant shut down again for lack of fuel after using up some 450,000 litres of diesel delivered on Friday through the Kerem Shalom crossing on Gaza's border with Israel.
"Unfortunately all the import routes for fuel have been cut, whether we're talking about the tunnels, the official crossings or from Ramallah," said Ahmad Abu al-Amrin, an official at Gaza's energy authority.
"The plant stopped functioning for the first time on February 14, but the fuel shortage began on December 25, 2011, because of security measures taken inside Egypt along the borders, which blocked the provision of fuel to the Rafah region."
He said the Gaza government had paid Egypt $2 million (1.5 million euros) for fuel, none of which had yet been delivered.
"It was initially agreed with Egypt that the fuel would be transported via the Rafah crossing (on the Gaza-Egypt border), but the Egyptians changed their minds and required that it go through Kerem Shalom instead," he said.
But the fuel which was delivered through Kerem Shalom on Friday was not from Egypt, but Israeli diesel which was paid for by the Palestinian Authority.
"There is a political problem with certain parties in Egypt, in coordination with the government in Ramallah, which is not interested in resolving the fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip," Abu al-Amrin said.
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In Ramallah, officials pointed the finger at Hamas for not sending anyone to join them at a meeting with Egyptian officials, which is currently under way in Cairo.
"A meeting was scheduled between a government delegation and Hamas delegation in Cairo, but Hamas did not send its representatives," Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib told AFP.
A Palestinian source in the West Bank said Egypt and Hamas also disagreed over both the cost of the fuel and how it should be delivered.
"Hamas wants to import fuel at the price paid by Egyptians in Egypt," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity. Egypt, he said, had refused to extend its domestic fuel subsidies to sales outside its territory.
Cairo has also insisted on delivering the fuel via Kerem Shalom, citing its agreements with Israel, he said, while Hamas wants the fuel through the Rafah crossing.
Meanwhile in Gaza, Dr Ashraf Qadara, a spokesman for the Hamas-run health ministry, said the situation was becoming ever more critical.
"We are living in a situation of worry and fear for hundreds of patients," he told AFP.
Hospitals were experiencing electrical interruptions of "more than 12 hours a day" and they were not receiving the necessary fuel to operate backup generators, he said.
"The health services are now facing a countdown to a halt in its operations for patients in Gaza," he warned. "The situation is a complete disaster."
Hospitals across the territory only had less than a fifth of their strategic reserves left, "which is enough for three days at the most," he said.
Egyptian officials were largely silent on the dispute, but one source told AFP that Cairo intended to comply with the deal to supply fuel to Gaza.
He pointed out, however, that Egypt had suffered fuel shortages itself in recent days.