Israel’s national electric company has cut back its already limited electricity shipments to the Gaza Strip, a step that is expected to worsen the power crunch plaguing the Hamas-controlled seaside territory.

The company confirmed the Israeli government instructed it to reduce supply to Gaza at the request of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s government in the West Bank.

Hamas seized Gaza from Mr Abbas’s forces a decade ago, and the internationally recognised Palestinian leader is trying to step up pressure on the Islamic militant group to cede power.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (PA)Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently told Israel he would cut payments for Gaza’s electricity (PA)

With Gaza’s small power plant out of commission, and Israel providing a fraction of what the territory needs, residents have been scraping by with about four hours of electricity a day.

Mohammed Thabet, of the Gaza electricity distribution company, said Gaza’s roughly two million residents could expect to receive even less power.

“There is nothing … that we can do,” he said.

Mr Thabet said Gaza was receiving 112 megawatts of power a day, down from the previous level of 120 megawatts. Gaza needs about 400 megawatts to meet its daily needs.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought three wars over the past decade. But Israel has continued to provide limited power to Gaza, paid for by the Palestinians, to prevent a humanitarian crisis on its doorstep and out of concern that more instability could lead to renewed fighting.

Palestinians protest against chronic power cuts in the Jabaliya refugee camp, Northern Gaza Strip (Khalil Hamra/AP)Palestinians protest against chronic power cuts in the Jabaliya refugee camp, Northern Gaza Strip (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Last week, Hamas warned of renewed violence against Israel if power is cut.

Israel has described Gaza’s power crisis as an internal Palestinian issue, saying it is merely a supplier.

In a statement, the electric company confirmed it had begun to reduce supplies on Monday and said shipments would be scaled back gradually, “so that the electricity supply will match the financial commitment”.

“The internal deliveries of electricity to consumers inside the Gaza Strip is not the responsibility of the electric company and is done by internal Palestinian authorities in the Gaza Strip,” it said.

Israel accuses Hamas of diverting Gaza’s limited electricity for military use and worsening the hardship on its people.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory. Israel says the restrictions are needed to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons.