By Mostafa El-Sawwaf, IOL Correspondent

Palestinians are filling up on basic supplies after Israeli warplanes knocked out electricity, raising the spectre of a humanitarian crisis. (Reuters)

KHAN YUNIS — With the Gaza Strip’s main power plant knocked out in the Israeli onslaught, now in its fifth day, Palestinian fish and meat merchants are closing businesses and selling their stocks almost for free.

“It is a disaster in the broad sense of the word,” Tawfiq Al-Abadlah, who used to run a lucrative fish and meat trade, told IslamOnline.net Sunday, July 2.

“I first thought that it was a routine power outage, but after 10 hours in darkness I realized the harsh reality,” he added bitterly.

Most of the fish and meat in Abadllah’s refrigerator went sour and he rushed to sell the rest.

“I feel helpless as I no longer can buy more fish or meat with no electricity,” he said with a heavy heart, adding that the blackout costs him 310 shekels ($70) a day.

Israeli warplanes shelled the coastal Strip’s only power plant on Wednesday, June 28, as part of a wide-scale offensive to set free a soldier taken prisoner by resistance groups.

The bombardment damaged the plant’s six main electrical transformers, which provide up to 50 percent of the Strip with electricity.

Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said Friday, June 30, that About 200 thousand households lost the source of electricity, and 179 thousand households’ refrigerators are not operating due to interruption of electricity current.

It said food stuff storage for the basic commodities like wheat and rice would not last for more than two weeks, and 170 thousand households will loose source of cooking energy in one week.

Towering Unemployment

Tariq Zareb, another merchant, and his business partners joined a long queue of jobless Palestinians due to the prolonged power outages.

“The Israeli raids have added insult to injury as Gazans are already suffering from a severe financial crunch,” he said desperately, referring to the West’s aid cutoff after Hamas assumed office in March.

“I lowered the prices of what remained from fish and meat, but still to no avail.”

Mahmud Saqr distributed fish and meat among friends and relatives, and sell some at meager prices.

“Tradesmen, factory workers and others are in the same boat,” he said, pointing helplessly at his empty fridge.

The Strip’s unemployment rates hit the scary 40 percent mark, while 70 percent of households are living below the poverty line.

Trying to cope, the Palestinian Electricity Company will distribute electricity generated from another power station in Rafah among cities.

“This means that all cities in the Gaza Strip will be deprived of electricity for 12 hours a day indefinitely,” the company’s director, Naeem Awad, told IOL.

Palestinian officials say that it could take six months and some $15 million to repair the damage done to the destroyed power plant.

The power outage also exacted its toll on about 80% of Gaza children, who used to spend their leisure time watching TV and using computers, readings, visiting friends and practicing sports.

All twenty-tow Gaza hospitals, additionally, will totally loose electricity of spare generators in one week due to shortage of fuel.

An average of 200 daily surgeries will be postponed or cancelled.

About 250 citizens are suffering renal failure facing death due to stopped dialysis units working on electricity.

Displacement

“We estimate that 25,000 people could be forced to flee Beit Hanoun if Israel attacks in the north, as it has indicated,” said Nordahl.

The United Nations also warned Sunday that up to thousands of Palestinians could be forced from their homes in northern Gaza alone if Israel decides to launch a full-scale assault on the densely populated coastal strip.

“We estimate that 25,000 people could be forced to flee Beit Hanoun if Israel attacks in the north, as it has indicated,” Christer Nordahl, the deputy director of the UN’s relief agency in Gaza, told Reuters, referring to a town in the area.

“We’re making plans to house those internally displaced in schools and are stockpiling medicine and food supplies to ensure that we can take care of them, and others across the Gaza Strip if the need arises.”

A wide-scale Israeli assault could lead to widespread problems linked to sanitation and water, food and medicine supply.

Israel has so far carried out about 60 aerial attacks on the Strip since Tuesday, June 27, while artillery units have shelled more than 1,000 rounds against the impoverished territory.

“It would make it very difficult for us to get aid through to the people who need it, creating a much wider humanitarian crisis,” Nordahl said.