Gaza Strip receives fuel after storm battering

2013-12-15 17:44

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Gaza City - The Gaza Strip received its first shipment of industrial fuel in 45 days on Sunday, bringing much-needed relief to the coastal territory battered by a rare Middle East-wide winter storm that left thousands in neighbouring Israel without power and paralysed Jerusalem.

A lack of fuel has hampered rescue efforts in Gaza, where thousands of residents fled flooded homes. The storm let up Saturday, but authorities in the region still struggled to clear roads and repair downed power lines.

While the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank can ship fuel to Gaza through Israel, Gaza's Hamas rulers have refused to accept the shipments, saying they cannot afford a new tax.

Palestinian border official Raed Fattouh said on Sunday's Israeli fuel shipment was paid for by Qatar, an oil rich Gulf country that has aided Hamas in the past.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas seized power in 2007. But over the weekend, Israel sent diesel fuel for heating and four water pumps as a humanitarian gesture.

Severe power cuts

Gaza power cuts have become severe in recent months following a coup in neighbouring Egypt that removed the country's Islamist president, a close ally of Hamas, from power. Egypt's new military rulers have closed smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border that provided fuel to Gaza.

The UN said some 10 000 Gazans were forced to seek shelter in schools and other public buildings due to flooding. Hamas authorities put the number at around 40 000.

On Sunday, residents began repairing what they could, fixing leaky roofs, windows and cracks in the walls, and trying to remove water from homes.

"It's time for hard work, to restart our lives again," said Ihab Saed, 23, whose family's small home was damaged by rainwater and sewage.

One man died from smoke inhalation after burning coal for warmth in his house, health officials said.

Israel also was reeling from the weekend storm. Some 14 000 homes remained without power, Israel Electric said.

Public transportation inside Jerusalem nearly halted as police asked residents not to drive, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said.

King Abdullah

"This morning I want to go to work but I can't because you see all the ice on the streets. I can't move my car," said Jerusalem resident Itzchak Haringman, who helped push a taxi out of the snow before hopping in.

Police only permitted commuters to reach Jerusalem by public buses. Some 150 vehicles that got stuck in the snow on a highway on Thursday night were being towed on Sunday.

Four Israelis were killed in weather-related incidents, police said. Schools were closed in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In neighbouring Jordan, King Abdullah II caused a stir by showing up to help push a car out of the snow on Saturday. The king stopped his black SUV to help a stranded motorist, shocking his security guards, who scrambled to keep curious onlookers away from him.

Amateur video showed a crowd cheer Abdullah, who wore boots and a red-and-white chequered head dress.
Read more on:    jordan  |  israel  |  middle east peace

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