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U.N. warns of 'walking into another Gaza crisis with eyes wide open'

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Middle East envoy warned the Security Council on Friday that a power struggle between the rival Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements had worsened a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that now risked exploding into another conflict.

“In Gaza we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open,” the envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, told the 15-member Council. “Unless urgent measures are taken to de-escalate, the crisis risks spiralling out of control with devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement controls the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the Israeli occupied West Bank. The Islamist Hamas movements runs the Gaza Strip after seizing control from Fatah a decade ago.

“The Palestinian Authority, Hamas ... and Israel, all have obligations for the welfare of Gaza’s residents and must live up to their responsibilities to address the crisis and overcome this political impasse,” Mladenov said.

Mladenov said that in April the PA cut salary allowances to nearly 60,000 public sector employees in Gaza and the Gaza power plant, which supplies a third of electricity, stopped working due to a dispute between the PA and Hamas over fuel tax.

He said power lines between Egypt and Gaza are down for technical reasons, leaving only Israeli electricity lines, which provide 60 percent of Gaza’s power. However, in April the PA said it would no longer pay Israel to supply Gaza.

Mladenov said that if that happened, electricity supply to Gaza would be further reduced by 30 percent, creating more hardship for the population.

He said the majority of Palestinians in Gaza were already only receiving about four hours of electricity a day and this could be halved. Mladenov added that desalination plants were only functioning at 15 percent of capacity and drinking water is supplied for a few hours every 2-4 days.

The envoy said that 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage was being discharged daily into the Mediterranean Sea, equivalent of 40 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“An environmental disaster for Israel, for Egypt and Gaza is in the making,” Mladenov said.

U.S. President Donald Trump visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem earlier this week and reaffirmed his commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but he offered no new details on how to achieve a goal that has eluded U.S. leaders for decades.

Mladenov welcomed Trump’s personal engagement.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool