United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, said on the electricity crisis and protests in Gaza : â€ťI am following, with great concern, the tense situation unfolding in Gaza, after two million Palestinians have been left with just a couple of hours of electricity per day in the middle of winter.
He added, according to the PNN :â€ť I call for the full respect of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful protest and assembly in Gaza. All responsible authorities must cooperate to resolve the electricity crisis immediately.â€ť
Amid widespread protests, Thursday night, regarding the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, reports have emerged of Hamas security forces assaulting journalists covering the protests, as well as temporarily detaining an opposition leader in the besieged enclave.
Crowded marches had set off in the northern Gaza Strip, mainly in the Jabaliya refugee camp, demanding a solution to the power crisis which has left the besieged coastal enclave with less than half of the electricity it needs.
Witnesses told Maâ€™an News Agency that during the marches, Gaza security forces opened fire in the air to suppress protesters â€śto prevent protesters from reaching the electricity company in Jabaliya.â€ť
In the same march, Gaza police officers allegedly assaulted journalists covering the event.
AFP photographer Muhammad al-Baba said that â€śmembers of the security forces beat me while covering the Jabaliya march at the electricity company headquarters injuring me in the head and I was taken to a hospital for treatment.â€ť
AP journalist Fares al-Ghoul saidÂ that â€śmembers of security put a gun on my chest and forced me to give them my cell phone.â€ť Al-Ghoul added that forces returned his cell phone during the incident.
Hundreds of Gazans took part in the march near Jabaliya camp, which was organized by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
Separately, the son of Gaza spokesperson for the Fateh movement Fayiz Abu Aita saidÂ that internal security forces arrested his father from his house in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip following a gathering of Fateh and Islamic Jihad leaders at Abu Aitaâ€™s house Thursday.
Fateh sources saidÂ that Hamas security forces released Abu Aita at 1 a.m. Friday after holding him for several hours.
Coordinator of national and Islamic forces Mustafa al-Duqus pointed out that the Hamas movement had, earlier in the day, â€śheld the Fateh movement responsible for the protests” around the electricity cuts in the besieged enclave.
However, it was unclear as of Friday if the Fateh official’s detention was connected to the ongoing protests in northern Gaza.
The Gaza Ministry of Interior released a statement Friday morning â€śconfirming its respect for journalists and the freedom of journalistic work.â€ť
The ministryâ€™s spokesperson Iyad al-Bazm said that AFP photographer Muhammad al-Baba sustained â€śan unintentional bruise in the faceâ€ť while police were â€śtrying to push away people from the headquarters of the electricity company.â€ť
Al-Bazm added that al-Baba was taken to the Indonesian Hospital for treatment, and that al-Bazm paid the journalist a personal visit to â€ścheck on him and apologize.â€ť
â€śJournalist Fares al-Ghoul, who works with the Associated Press, was not arrested or assaulted, his ID card was checked and we immediately returned his cell phone,â€ť the statement said.
The Gaza Strip police also released a statement Friday, saying that they support â€śpeopleâ€™s right in peaceful protests in order to deliver a message to officials without harming the possessions of Palestinian people.â€ť
Spokesperson of the Gaza police Ayman al-Batniji said that the march that took place in Jabaliya on Thursday was peaceful and people of all sectors of society took part.
He added that the police in the northern Gaza Strip secured all crossroads until the march was over, â€śbut afterwards a group of those who wanted to change the course of the popular demand gathered and started throwing rocks at police vehicles, the police suppressed them; the activity ended with some injuries.â€ť
Thursday marked the second consecutive day of protests in the besieged Gaza Strip, following an announcement by Gazaâ€™s power authority stating that the blockaded enclave was only provided with 200 megawatts of electricity, only 45 percent of the 450 megawatts needed to fully supply power to Gaza.
Protesters have called on all relevant authorities to find a permanent solution to the protracted issue, which has seriously affected Palestinians suffering under the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade.
Gaza residents have struggled under ever-growing daily power cuts during the cold winter months.
In a statement released Saturday, Gazaâ€™s electricity company said that most districts of the small Palestinian territory were only receiving power for three-hour intervals in between 12-hour power cuts, due to severe fuel shortages.
While the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip on Sunday raised hopes for some relief from the power shortages, the frequent power cuts create dangerous environments for Palestinians attempting to keep warm in the winter or needing light during the night, with a number of fires breaking out since the beginning of the year.
Gazaâ€™s usual electricity schedule alternates eight hours of power followed by eight hours without.
Even at full capacity, Egyptian and Israeli electricity grids, together with Gaza’s sole power plant, fail to cover the Gaza Stripâ€™s energy needs.
The power plant has not run at full capacity in years, with Israel’s crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.
The enclave’s severe electricity shortages over the years have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.
War has also taken its toll, and during Israel’s 50-day offensive on Gaza in 2014, the power plant was targeted, completely knocking it out of commission.
The UN has warned that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel’s blockade.