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Hamas-led government says some salaries to be paid, first since March
The Associated Press
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - The Hamas-led government said Tuesday it will pay partial salaries to its 165,000 employees, the first payday for some Palestinian workers in three months.
The announcement came after thousands of angry workers staged an anti-government protest. Salaries have not been paid since a cutoff of Western aid and Israeli tax transfers after the militant Islamic movement took over the Palestinian government.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said he hoped the workers would get checks "in the next few days" for 1,500 shekels ($333), equal to a full month's salary for about a quarter of the workers and a partial payment for the rest.
A top Hamas official tried to smuggle a large amount of cash into Gaza this month, but the money was confiscated.
Ahmed Youssef, a Haniyeh aide, said that money ended up in the coffers of the Finance Ministry. Together with local donations and tax collections, he said, there was enough money to pay some salaries.
The Palestinian government is the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza. The lack of foreign aid also has led to severe shortages of medicines and other hardships.
Haniyeh called on Israel and Europe to release funding. Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terror group and refuse to give it money. Haniyeh called that an "unjust siege" on his people.
Israel, the U.S. and Europe demand that Hamas recognize Israel, accept previous peace accords and renounce violence. Hamas has refused. Its ideology does not have a place for a Jewish state in the Middle East, and over the past decade it has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet on Tuesday that he will meet President Mahmoud Abbas soon, according to participants, but did not want to raise expectations because "after such meetings, the Palestinians always fail to meet their obligations."
Abbas has been trying to force Hamas into a more centrist position, setting a 10-day limit on a dialogue before calling a referendum on a document that implicitly recognizes Israel.
Hamas dismissed Abbas' ultimatum.
"Time should not be a sword directed at the participants," Haniyeh said Tuesday. "Enough time should be given to reach the expected results from this dialogue."
In Ramallah, thousands of angry workers demonstrated against the government Tuesday, demanding payment of their back wages.
The protest, which took place just before Haniyeh announced the partial payments, was organized by the Palestinian Authority Employees Union, sympathetic to Fatah.
Palestinians have been dipping deep into their savings and doing without nonessential items to make ends meet.
One of the protesters, Mohammed Taleb, said he can no longer provide for his 11 children and is living from handouts. "They forgot us. They are busy with politics," said Taleb, an employee in the Transportation Ministry.
Israel sent soldiers deep into Gaza for the first time Tuesday since its pullout last summer, ambushing an Islamic Jihad rocket squad and killing three militants in a battle that included missiles fire from an Israeli helicopter.
An officer from the Palestinians' Force 17 security branch was also killed. Hamas said he was a member of its military wing and was defending the rocket squad. Islamic Jihad said its cell was about to fire rockets at the Israeli city of Ashkelon when it was surrounded.
Israel has been hesitant to re-enter Gaza, but other measures aimed at stopping the daily rocket barrages have failed. The military acknowledged its new tactic in a statement noting that a force "operating in Gaza" engaged the militants.
Also Tuesday, masked Palestinian gunmen killed a man they suspected of spying for Israel. Jafal Abu Tzrur, 24, was shot dead on a main street by members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, who suspected he informed on three militants killed during an Israeli raid on the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus.
The group also denounced Abu Tzrur's girlfriend, a mother of four who was married to one of the Al Aqsa men slain by Israel, and she was killed by male relatives on grounds that she shamed her clan.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company