Gaza public servants strike over pay dispute

Estimated 40,000 staff hired by Hamas want new Palestinian unity government to put them on its payroll.

    An estimated 40,000 public servants hired by the Palestinian group Hamas have gone on strike in the Gaza Strip.

    The pay dispute could test the resilience of the new Palestinian government, formed just weeks ago under the group's unity pact with President Mahmoud Abbas.

    All government offices in the Hamas-controlled territory were closed on Thursday as a result of the one-day strike, but hospital emergency rooms remained open and police continued to patrol the streets.

    The new government, based in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, angered public workers on Hamas's payroll by saying it would vet them before paying out salaries, a process that could take months.

    The wage dispute has shown the fragility of the reconciliation agreement signed in April under which a government of technocrats was formed with the task of holding a national ballot within six months.

    Earlier this month, Gaza's public-sector union suspended protests that lasted nearly a week, saying it would resume its action if its members were not promptly paid.

    "This strike is a first step and an initial warning to the unity government," Mohammed Seyam, chairman of the Hamas-hired workers' union in Gaza, told Reuters news agency.

    "We want to be recognised as employees of the [Ramallah-based] Palestinian Authority [PA] and merged into the main salary list. If there was no response from the unity government we will escalate our protests."

    Hamas-hired workers on strike are especially resentful because the PA has been paying its own 70,000-strong workforce in Gaza, even though the majority of them no longer work under Hamas rule.

    Hamas itself has struggled to pay its staff in recent months due partly to a continued rigid blockade imposed on Gaza by both Israel and Egypt.

    Apart from the salary row, the apparent abduction of three young Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which Israel has blamed on Hamas, is also threatening the recent reconciliation between Palestinian rivals.

    Officials loyal to Abbas's Fatah faction have said the unity deal could fail if Israeli charges against Hamas were authenticated. The group has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

    But Abbas is also facing growing resentment because his security services have been collaborating with their Israeli counterparts in the search to locate the three young settlers.

    Israel's Shin Bet security service on Thursday identified two alleged Hamas operatives in the West Bank as the central suspects in the incident.

    It said they were Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha from Hebron, the area where the young settlers disappeared from a fortnight ago.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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