Hamas will pay civil servants in Gaza

July 30, 2007 - 0:0

GAZA CITY (AP) -- The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip will begin paying thousands of civil servants cut from the payroll of its moderate rival Fatah, officials said Saturday, further entrenching the divisions between the two Palestinian territories.

Hamas' takeover of Gaza, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' subsequent decision to dismiss the Hamas government, effectively set up two Palestinian administrations. Abbas has installed a Cabinet headed by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that has control of the West Bank. Hamas' payment of the salaries would further cement its rule over impoverished Gaza, where unemployment is about 40 percent and most of the 1.4 million people receive foreign food handouts. The money will go to thousands of members of Hamas' Executive Force, a Hamas militia that polices Gaza, and those civil servants who refused an order from Fayyad not to cooperate with the Islamic group. During a year of Hamas rule, following the group's election victory in January 2006, civil servants were only paid sporadically because of an international aid boycott, prompting a further downturn in the battered Palestinian economy. Hamas has relied largely on aid from sympathetic governments and on donations sent to its charities in Gaza. In all, Abbas' Palestinian Authority employs about 165,000 people, half of them members of the Fatah-allied security forces. The salaries of civil servants provide for about one-third of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Ala al-Batta, head of a Hamas-run civil servants' union in Gaza, told a local news radio Saturday that more than 10,000 government workers will receive their salaries from Hamas. Hamas officials said payments began Sunday, and that it had enough money to pay salaries in the near future. However, it's unclear how long it could keep up payments since it has difficulties bringing money into Gaza. Separately, Information Minister Riad Malki announced Saturday that Fayyad's government had reached an agreement with Israel, bypassing Hamas, that will enable some 6,000 Gazans stranded in Egypt since the beginning of June to return home gradually. Their return had been delayed by a dispute over the Rafah terminal on the Gaza-Egypt border, the only passage for Gazans to the world that has been closed since the Fatah-Hamas fighting began in Gaza. Under a U.S.-brokered agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the crossing was operated by Egypt and the Palestinians, with EU monitors deployed on the Palestinian side. During the Hamas takeover, the European monitors fled and Hamas militiamen took control of the terminal. Israel and Egypt have refused to reopen the crossing as long as Hamas is on the border. Hamas denounced the compromise since it allowed Israel to decide who could enter Gaza. Rafah's continued closure also means Hamas officials will find it more difficult to bring cash into the Gaza Strip in suitcases, used to fund the group, and the government it runs