Cairo envoy: Reconciliation, energy crisis ‘need more time’

MAAN NEWS AGENCY FEB 27 2012

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Palestinian Authority Ambassador to Egypt said Monday that both Fatah and Hamas need more time to implement a reconciliation deal, and called for further meetings.

Amb. Yasser Othman also said an electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip which has caused long blackouts will be solved within two years, as the deal includes multiple stages to improve delivery of power from Egypt.

The envoy stressed that forming a transitional government is the key to ending the four-year division between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as it will oversee elections.

Party chiefs signed up to a unity cabinet headed by President Mahmoud Abbas in early February, to the protest of Gaza-based Hamas officials.

After senior Hamas and Fatah officials met in the Egyptian capital last week, expected announcements on the unity government did not emerge, and both parties claimed the other requested the delay.

“It is obvious that both sides need more time and more meetings and discussions,” the ambassador told Ma’an on Monday.

Cairo was just the first round, and there will be larger meetings to discuss issues that need more time, he said.

Egypt is determined to see the May 2011 deal through, and calls on both sides to overcome recent obstacles through more meetings, Othman added.

The ambassador also touched on a deal between Egypt and Gaza’s energy authority to end a power crisis that shut down the sole power station in the blockaded coastal strip.

Egypt increased its power supply to the Gaza Strip from 17 to 22 megawatts on Sunday as the first stage of the deal, but the energy authority director said further steps were necessary as it has “not resulted in a major improvement.”

Othman said the next phase is allowing more fuel for Gaza’s power plant through the Rafah terminal on the border with Egypt, and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing further south.

The route of the fuel delivery is at the heart of the crisis, as Egypt tried to shut off the regular route through underground tunnels and find an official passage.

The Hamas-run energy authority is reluctant to use the Israeli terminal for fear Israel will use its control to squeeze the blockaded Gaza Strip, while development of Rafah to transfer fuel is restricted under international agreements. It was not immediately clear if this impasse had been broken.

Othman said Gaza’s electricity crisis will end within two years, after the third phase of the agreement — to link Gaza to Egyptian power lines — is implemented.

Meanwhile, international aid group Oxfam said in a release Sunday that the crisis was having a disproportionate effect on women, who bear the load of domestic work, and leaving children in Gaza “stressed and scared,” quoting local partner organization the Women’s Affairs Center.

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