Hamas reaches deal with Egypt on electricity for Gaza

Hamas has reached a "comprehensive agreement" with Egypt to permanently end the electricity crisis in Gaza, the Islamist movement said on Thursday.

"A comprehensive agreement has been reached with Egyptian officials to put a permanent end to the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip," Hamas spokesperson Taher al-Nunu said in a statement.

He said the deal was the result of "intensive" efforts by the Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniya, during talks with Egyptian officials and the Islamic Development Bank.

The deal comes after the sole power plant in the impoverished territory was forced to shut down after running out of fuel - a long-standing issue in Gaza, where an Israeli blockade limits imports and exports.

Nunu said the deal involved three stages, the first of which would see Egyptian companies pumping fuel directly to Gaza under the terms of contracts signed with the firms.

"The prices will be international prices and the fuel will be transferred in a way Egypt deems appropriate," the statement said.

The second part of the agreement will see the Islamic Development Bank fund a project to upgrade and increase the capacity of Gaza's power plant by 40 megawatts, it added.

The third phase of the deal will see Gaza's electricity grid connected to Egypt's and will seek to convert its power plant, which currently supplies around a third of the Strip's electricity, from diesel to gas.

Nunu said the Islamic Development Bank, founded by members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, would contribute $32.5 million.

Also on Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had delivered 150,000 liters of diesel to Gaza's health ministry.

"The fuel will help 13 public hospitals maintain essential health services for the next 10 days," the group said, adding that hospitals in the territory were now relying on generators for up to 18 hours a day.

Gaza has long suffered outages because of shortages at its power plant, which has a maximum capacity of 140 megawatts but for some years has only been able to generate around half of that when operational.

In recent weeks the situation has worsened because of a shortage of fuel, most of which is smuggled through cross-border tunnels from Egypt.

International aid agency Oxfam on Saturday warned that the lack of fuel meant Gaza was facing "a total collapse of essential services," and said only an end to Israel's blockade of the territory would solve its electricity shortage.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 following the capture of one of its soldiers in June of that year. It was tightened a year later after Hamas took over Gaza, with Israel restricting amounts of fuel allowed through the crossings.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon