Gaza factory workers protest closure amidst fuel, power crisis
Published Tuesday 17/12/2013 (updated) 17/12/2013 21:19
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of workers protested Monday in front of al-Awda biscuit factory in Deir al-Balah after the plant was closed as a result of the ongoing power and gas crisis in the Gaza Strip.
450 workers demonstrated at one of the Gaza Strip's few remaining large factories after managers were forced to steadily reduce working hours due to lack of fuel and electricity.
Factory director Muhammad Telbani says the crisis started about a month ago when providers stopped supplying the factory with gas as fuel ran out across the Gaza Strip.
He highlighted that his factory needs 45 tons of domestic-use gas per month.
As of late, however, "we have lately been receiving only 8 tons every month," even though the factory could still afford to purchase the required fuel.
Additionally, the factory receives only six hours of electricity a day, similar to other parts of the Gaza Strip.
As a result, he said, the factory has been working only four days a month, detrimentally affecting the wages of 450 workers. They have now launched a picket in protest against their inability to earn enough to feed their families.
Telbani explained that his factory used to produce 40 tons of biscuits a day.
"We have contacted the Ministry of Economy, the director of the petroleum corporation and all concerned parties to try and end the crisis, but so far we received no response."
Before Israel imposed an economic siege of the Gaza Strip, Al-Awda used to export 60 percent of its products, mostly to the West Bank. Israel's ban on both imports and exports, however, has cut this trade off, while ingredients necessary to make the factory's biscuits are difficult to acquire.
Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.
Until Sunday, the Gaza Strip had been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.
The power station began operating Sunday after receiving a delivery of diesel that was purchased from Israel by the Palestinian Authority using funds donated by Qatar.
The plant was only reopened in 2012 after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.
Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.
In 2011 and 2012, however, the situation improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.
Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Hamas authorities to afford.