Parts of Gaza Deal with Darkness

The closed border crossings between Israel and Gaza are taking their toll on the Hamas-run territory. Large parts of the Gaza Strip were plunged into darkness because its main power plant shut down. Israel blocked fuel supplies and closed the border in an attempt to persuade Palestinian militants there to stop firing rockets at Israel.

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Many stores are closed in Gaza today after the only power plant in Gaza was forced to shut down. This plant does not have enough fuel to run because Israel blocked fuel supplies into the Gaza Strip to protest rocket fire that was going into Israel.

Now Hamas officials, who are in charge in Gaza, say at least five hospital patients have died, but Israeli officials say Hamas is exaggerating this crisis for political gain.

And we have more this morning from NPR's Linda Gradstein.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: Hamas officials say at least 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza spent a cold, dark night after the power plant shut down. Hospitals have suspended most operations, and medical officials warned dozens of critically-ill patients could be at risk. Residents are stockpiling food and witnesses said fistfights broke out at the few gas pumps still open. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who've lost control of Gaza to Hamas last summer, has called for international intervention to force Israel to end the blockade.

The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, John Ging, said the situation is growing desperate.

Mr. JOHN GING (Director, United Nations Relief and Works Agency): The hospitals are operating on generator power. What it means is that the vital and medical equipment is functioning, but there's no power for heating. So it's very, very cold in all of the hospitals.

GRADSTEIN: But Israeli officials say Hamas is exaggerating the crisis. They say that Israel directly provides 60 percent of Gaza's electricity and they haven't cut any of it. A spokesman for Israel's defense ministry insisted that not only does the power station have enough fuel reserves to continue functioning, but that Hamas chose to shut it down to get international sympathy. The current crisis escalated when Israel shut down the borders with Gaza on Thursday. That happened after more than 200 rockets and mortars hit Israel from Gaza, wounding several Israelis and damaging homes. Israel also launched a large-scale operation against Palestinian gunmen who fired the rockets. At least 25 Palestinians have been killed in the past week, most of them gunmen.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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