Air strikes by Israeli warplanes at dawn on Thursday caused serious damage to the Gaza Strip’s only power plant, plunging the territory — which already suffers from frequent outages — into darkness.
Media reports said the air strikes hit two sites belonging to Hamas near the Gaza power plant in Moghraqa village, central Gaza.
Engineer Darar Abu Sisi, director of operations for the Gaza plant, told The Electronic Intifada that at 2:47am an Israeli air attack on a Hamas site near the power plant scattered rocks and debris into the air. A rock crashed into the a current transformer and voltage transformer in a substation, causing the unit to shut down.
The damage forced the plant to reduce production from its usual 65 megawatts daily to about 35 megawatts, Abu Sisi said, far short of current needs. Unless the damage is repaired it may lead to even longer outages than the power cuts people in Gaza already live with.
“I believe that the Gaza power company has been able to coordinate with the Israeli side and we hope that this time they will be able to bring the needed spare part through Israeli land crossings, which are closed of course because of the Israeli siege,” Abu Sisi told The Electronic Intifada.
Even before Thursday’s bombing, Gaza residents face prolonged power outages of six to eight hours per day, adding to the severe hardships caused by the prolonged Israeli siege that prevents people and goods from moving freely in and out of Gaza. Abu Sisi estimated that the outages would increase to eight to ten hours per day.
The power shortages cripple daily life and the already devastated economy, and effect everything from students having no light to study, to households having no power for daily needs, and badly affect hospitals, sanitation and water supply systems.
Another effect is severe noise and air pollution from ubiquitous gasoline-powered generators that people use to cope with the shortages. In 2009 alone, 75 persons died in Gaza from hazardous handling of generators.
In 2006, Israel bombed and severely damaged the power plant’s three turbines which supplies about a third of the electricity used by Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. Since the 2006 bombing, Israel has further crippled electricity supplies by severely limiting the transfer of spare parts and fuel into Gaza.
According to the UN-commissioned Goldstone report into Israel’s winter 2008-09 attack on Gaza, approximately half of Gaza’s electricity supply came from Israel, seven percent from Egypt and a third from the Gaza power plant, leaving a deficit of about eight percent. The electricity deficit reached up to 41 percent at times due to Israeli fuel restrictions, according to other UN sources cited by the Goldstone report.
With no end in sight to the Israeli siege, Thursday’s bombing has just made the lives of Gaza’s population, half of them children, even darker as the longest nights of winter approach.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.