GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza City was plunged into darkness Sunday after Israel blocked the shipment of fuel that powers its only electrical plant in retaliation for persistent rocket attacks by Gaza militants.
The power cut sent Gazans to stock up on food and batteries in anticipation of dark, cold days ahead. Gaza officials warned the move would cause a health catastrophe while a U.N. agency and human rights groups condemned Israel.
“We have the choice to either cut electricity on babies in the maternity ward or heart surgery patients or stop operating rooms,” said a Gaza Health Ministry doctor.
Four hours after the blackout, Hamas claimed that five patients died because of the cutoff of electricity in hospitals. The claim could not be confirmed.
Israel justified the fuel cutoff because of continuous rocket attacks by Gaza militants. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Meckel said the Gaza Strip continues to receive 70 percent of its electricity supply directly from Israel, which would not be affected, and another 5 percent from Egypt.
The blackout “is a Hamas ploy to pretend there is some kind of crisis to attract international sympathy,” Meckel said.
Late Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to Israel to lift the blockade, said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh. Abbas effectively rules only the West Bank after Hamas expelled his forces from Gaza last June.
A defiant Hamas said its attacks on Israel would not cease because of the sanctions.
“We will not raise the white flag, and we will not surrender,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Sunday.