GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip is rapidly running out of cooking gas and diesel fuel for hospital generators will only last another 7-10 days, officials said Sunday, after Palestinian protesters destroyed the fuel terminal at the territory's only cargo crossing.
In Friday night's attack, a large crowd broke into the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, badly damaging a fuel and gas terminal and a conveyor belt for aggregate and animal feed.
Israel closed Kerem Shalom, saying it would take weeks or months to repair several million dollars in damages. It was not clear when the delivery of consumer goods by trucks would resume, said an army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, adding that six trucks with medical supplies entered Gaza on Sunday.
There has been widespread speculation about the motives for the vandalism, with Israel holding Gaza's rulers from the Islamic militant Hamas group responsible. Friday's attack was the second on Kerem Shalom in a week, raising questions about why Hamas did not try to protect a key installation.
Hamas, which has a tight grip on Gaza, has not commented publicly.
The closure of the vital cargo crossing comes at a tense time in Gaza, which has endured a border blockade by Israel and Egypt since Hamas assumed control of the territory in 2007.
Since late March, Hamas has organized weekly protests near the border with Israel, in hopes of breaking the blockade. Forty-two protesters have been killed and more than 1,800 wounded by Israeli army fire during the campaign.
On Monday, the largest turnout yet is expected for a protest to coincide with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem. The possibility of a mass border breach, floated in recent days by Hamas officials, has raised concerns about large numbers of Palestinian casualties. Israel has said it would prevent a breach at any cost.
The rampage at Kerem Shalom, in the southeastern corner of Gaza, began just as Friday's weekly border protest was wrapping up.
Conricus, the army spokesman, alleged that Hamas "incited the violence that led to the vandalism of the crossing."
An Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with briefing regulations, said Hamas security men were in the area at the time, using communications devices and telling people what to do. He said Israel relayed messages to Hamas to stop the riots and that Hamas refused.
A senior Hamas official confirmed that Hamas security men were in the area, but that they were unable to stop an angry crowd of about 5,000 people. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of he was not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters, estimated the damage at about $10 million.
The closure of the crossing creates new hardships for Gaza's 2 million people who have endured the fallout from 11 years of blockade, including just a few hours a day of electricity.
With a heavy reliance on generators, a shortage of diesel fuel needed to run them would be sharply felt in Gaza.
Gaza's 13 public hospitals have enough diesel fuel for generators for a week to 10 days, said Mahmoud Daher from the World Health Organization. In 14 clinics run by NGOs, supplies might only last for four or five days, he added.
"Coupled with the existing shortage of medicine and drugs and other materials needed by the health ministry this will add another burden on the already overstretched health sector," he said.
Gaza is also running low on cooking gas, said Samir Hamada, the head of the association of cooking gas vendors.
Gaza needs about 350 tons of cooking gas daily, but only about 300 tons are still available at private sales outlets, he said. Hamas ordered sales to stop to assess the shortage, he said.
Starting Monday, people can only get their cylinders halfway filled halfway to make the most of the available amounts, he said.