Palestinian government employees receive first payment in more than a year

Thursday, July 5, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Palestinian government employees loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday stood in long lines outside banks in Hamas-ruled Gaza to collect their first full salaries in 15 months.

The salary payments were a boost to Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas, which took control of Gaza by force last month. Abbas has since fired the Hamas-led government and said civil servants who sided with the Islamic militants will not be receiving salaries.

In all, about 31,000 of the 164,000 government employees in Gaza and the West Bank will not be paid, according to Salam Fayyad, the new prime minister in Abbas' government.

Since Hamas won Palestinian elections in March 2006, the Palestinian government's employees, half of them members of security forces, had only received sporadic, partial payments because of an international aid boycott on the militants.

Following the Gaza takeover, Western aid and Israeli tax transfers were renewed to the West Bank-based Palestinian government appointed by Abbas.

Fayyad said Wednesday that the salary payments to workers in Gaza and the West Bank were "an important sign of breaking another ring of the economic siege."

Jihad Abu Shehada, a military intelligence member, was one of those waiting outside the Arab Bank in Gaza City to collect his salary of $550. Following the order of Abbas, he hasn't reported to work since the Gaza takeover.

"They attacked us, and they shot at us, and fought us, and then they want us to work for them. Never," Abu Shehada said.

There are 55,000 government employees in the crowded Gaza Strip. Abu Ramadan, a member of the Hamas militia, the Executive Force, was guarding a Gaza bank Wednesday even though it wouldn't pay him a salary. He said he trusted Hamas to pay him instead.

"We don't recognize the Ramallah government. Here we have a government in control and on the ground," he said.

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