updated 8/21/2007 11:43:16 AM ET 2007-08-21T15:43:16

The European Union said Tuesday it will resume vital fuel aid to the Gaza Strip’s electric company, bringing a measure of relief to Palestinians who have sweltered at home or choked on generator smoke during five days of power outages.

The EU had suspended payments for the fuel that powers major Gaza electricity generators on Sunday, suspecting the strip’s Hamas rulers were pocketing electricity revenues. On Tuesday, the bloc announced that fuel shipments to the power plant would resume the following day.

Hamas denied skimming money, saying the allegations were an attempt by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ government in the West Bank to discredit the Islamic group.

The fuel cutoff, which began Friday, left at least half of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents in the dark and without fans as temperatures soared to 95 degrees.

The electricity outage initially began after Israel closed a fuel crossing with Gaza, citing security threats. Although Israel reopened the crossing on Sunday, the fuel shipments were not renewed because the EU stopped paying the Israeli supplier.

The Israeli fuel vendor, Dor Alon, had no immediate comment on when supplies might resume.

Hamas has been going door to door in Gaza in recent weeks, ordering residents to pay long-overdue electricity bills. While Hamas denies it controls the electricity company, Abbas’ Fatah insists it does, citing the arrest last month of the Gaza electric company’s executive director.

The electricity crisis confronted the Islamic militant Hamas with a major crisis just two months after it seized control of the strip, vanquishing Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.

'The noise and the misery'
Without enough power to keep pumps going, water authorities began rationing water on Tuesday.

Shops in Gaza City’s main market set up noisy, smoke-spewing generators in the streets to run their lights. Families ran to the grocery stores every few hours to buy food because they couldn’t refrigerate. And streets were jammed with cars and irritable motorists because traffic lights were out.

Israeli and Egyptian utilities that power the rest of Gaza have stepped up production to alleviate the outages, but even with these stopgap measures, Gazans in affected areas were without power about 20 hours a day.

At a falafel stand in downtown Gaza City on Tuesday, people waiting in line covered their noses with their hands to avoid the fumes of the gas generators and stench from a pile of garbage that had been mounting for nine days due to a strike by unpaid municipal workers.

“I stepped out of work to get some fresh air but I smell only exhaust from the generators and burnt garbage,” said a mother of five who would only give her name as Nawal. “Then I go home to live in darkness. So 24 hours a day I can’t avoid the noise and the misery of the dirty pollution of Gaza.”

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