GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - The Gaza Strip received its first shipment of industrial fuel in 45 days Sunday, bringing relief to the coastal territory after a winter storm dumped rare snow across the region.
The storm, which began late Wednesday and saw temperatures dip below freezing, crippled of Jerusalem and left thousands without power in Israel and the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as the worst storm in decades. It dumped up to two feet of snow on Jerusalem, a huge amount for a city that often goes entire winters without a snowstorm.
Gaza, located on the Mediterranean coast, experienced its first snowfall in about 20 years, but most of the damage was caused by flooding.
A lack of fuel has hampered rescue efforts in Gaza, where an estimated 40,000 residents fled flooded homes. The storm let up Sunday, but authorities in the region still struggled to clear roads and repair downed power lines.
Gaza has suffered from chronic fuel shortages since the Hamas militant group seized power in 2007, prompting Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade on the territory. But the situation has worsened since a coup in neighboring Egypt last July. The country's new military rulers have tightened the blockade and destroyed a network of smuggling tunnels that were used to ship cheap fuel into the territory.
While the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank can send fuel to Gaza through Israel, Gaza's Hamas rulers have refused to accept the shipments, saying they cannot afford a new tax.
Palestinian border official Raed Fattouh said Sunday's Israeli fuel shipment was paid for by Qatar, an oil rich Persian Gulf country that has aided Hamas in the past. Officials said Gazans would now have roughly 12 hours of electricity a day, up from the recent level of six hours.
The storm has come at a difficult time for Gaza. Recurring power outages have led to the suspension of many health care programs and services, including waste water treatment. Overwhelmed sewage facilities have been forced to dump untreated waste into the Mediterranean, and long lines are often formed outside bakeries while people wait to buy bread.
Despite the blockade, Israel over the weekend sent diesel fuel for heating and four water pumps as a humanitarian gesture.