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Middle East

West Bank workers strike over unpaid salaries

Public sector staff strike as some 50,000 employees have not got paid due to Israeli financial sanctions.
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2012 12:50
Israel says Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas violated previous peace accords by securing a Palestinian status upgrade [AFP]

Government employees in the West Bank have begun a two-day general strike to protest against a delay in the payment of their salaries due to imposed Israeli economic sanctions.

Some 50,000 government employees at ministries, schools and health facilities failed to show up for work on Wednesday to protest against the non-payment of their November salaries.

"This was a full strike today," Bassem Zakarneh, spokesman for the Palestinian government workers union, told AFP news agency, adding that it would continue on Thursday.

Wednesday's action appeared much more subdued and there were no public protests, with Palestinians blaming Israel rather than their own government for their current economic woes.

The strike "is to protest against Israeli piracy and theft of our money, which put one million Palestinians under the poverty line," Zakarneh said, calling on the government "to stand with the workers."

Schools in the West Bank remained closed and education ministry sources said they were looking at a proposal to start the school winter break early because of a shortage of teachers due to the strike.

The government of the West Bank has been mired for months in a financial crisis that has left it regularly unable to pay its employees.

October salaries were paid late, and government workers have yet to see any of their November wages with no word on when they might be paid.

Tit-for-tat

The crisis has been aggravated by Israel withholding some $100 million in monthly customs revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf as a punishment after Palestine gained upgraded status at the United Nations.

"This puts about a million citizens in Palestine in the cycle of poverty," said Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, speaking of the Israeli sanctions.

"We're talking about doubling the rate of poverty in Palestine during a maximum period of two months from today if the situation continues as it is".

Earlier this month, Arab ministers agreed to activate a financial "safety network" of $100 million a month which would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

But on Sunday, Fayyad said the government had not yet seen the additional funds, which he warned would only plug part of the gap in the budget.

"I have nothing left to do but to urge our Arab brothers to activate this net, because until this point there has been no movement to deliver the $100 million," he told reporters.

"If this safety net is not activated quickly, I'll call for an emergency Arab summit to discuss the financial situation because it's a dangerous situation."

The December funds transfer by Israel has already been withheld, with Israel saying that the money would be used to begin payments on the $200 million the Palestinians owe the Israel Electricity corporation.

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