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Why is there a fuel shortage in Gaza, and what does it mean for Palestinians?

Almost three weeks after the terror attack by Hamas militants against Israel sparked a wave of retaliatory airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, international humanitarian agencies are warning that the Palestinian territory is running out of critical and life-saving resources, especially fuel. 

Gaza, a narrow stretch of land along the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Egypt, has been under an Israeli military blockade since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007. Home to a densely packed population of about 2.3 million people, Gaza depends largely on Israel for drinking water, food supplies, electricity and fuel for its only power plant. 

Israeli officials took steps when the blockade was implemented to reduce the electricity and fuel distributed to Gaza, arguing those resources served the Hamas regime. Conflict between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which presides over the Israeli-occupied West Bank, further exacerbated the energy crisis in the Gaza Strip in recent years, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

More than 1,400 people in Israel, most of them civilians, were killed and hundreds of others were taken hostage during Hamas’ rampage on Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials. Shortly after, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a tightening of the Gaza blockade. 

“Nothing is allowed in or out,” Gallant said in a statement. “There will be no fuel, electricity or food supplies.”

But over the weekend, twenty trucks carrying humanitarian aid, including drinking water and medial supplies, were allowed to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing in Egypt, the first time aid was allowed in the territory since Israel declared war earlier this month. 

Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing on Oct. 21, 2023.

Khaled Omar/Xinhua via Getty Images

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza run by Hamas. Four of the trucks that crossed into Gaza on Saturday carried medical supplies, including medicine to treat chronic diseases, trauma and three months’ worth of other essential supplies for 300,000 people, the World Health Organization said. Trucks also brought 44,000 bottles of drinking water, enough for 22,000 people for a single day, according to UNICEF. 

But very little fuel has been allowed in — and, on Tuesday, the United Nations’ main relief agency in Gaza warned that they would not be able to continue operating in the territory without it.

“If we do not get fuel urgently, we will be forced to halt our operations in the #GazaStrip as of tomorrow night,” the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday. Around the same time, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the Security Council that “without fuel, aid cannot be delivered, hospitals will not have power, and drinking water cannot be purified or even pumped.” U.N. representatives have estimated that Gaza needs about 160,000 liters —more than 42,000 gallons— of fuel per day to meet the basic needs of its population.

The World Health Organization said one third of Gaza’s hospitals could no longer function because of the fuel scarcity, noting in a social media post that the territory’s “medical burden is enormous” amid the Israeli military siege. 

The agency said in a statement that it was able to deliver “34,000 liters of fuel to four major hospitals in southern Gaza and the Palestine Red Crescent Society to sustain its ambulance services” on Tuesday. It was “only enough to keep ambulances and critical hospital functions running for a little over 24 hours,” the WHO said.

“Unless vital fuel and additional health supplies are urgently delivered into Gaza, thousands of vulnerable patients risk death or medical complications as critical services shut down due to lack of power,” the agency said. “These include 1000 patients dependent on dialysis, 130 premature babies who need a range of care, and patients in intensive care or requiring surgery who depend on a stable and uninterrupted supply of electricity to stay alive.” 

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, said Tuesday that the military would not provide fuel to Gaza because of concerns that fuel shipments could be intercepted by Hamas and used to perpetuate more violence, Reuters reported.

“Petrol will not enter Gaza. Hamas takes the petrol for its military infrastructure,” Hagari said. 

Responding to a thread on X where the UNRWA cautioned that the humanitarian consequences of withholding fuel could be severe, the Israel Defense Forces claimed that Hamas has been stockpiling fuel in tanks inside Gaza that it does not give to Palestinian civilians. CBS News has not verified this claim.

“These fuel tanks are inside Gaza. They contain more than 500,000 liters of fuel,” wrote the Israeli military with an aerial photograph showing what appears to be two rows of white circular containers on the ground below. “Ask Hamas if you can have some.” 

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