Palestinian pay cuts add to mounting Gaza woes
London - Protests against civil service pay cuts broke out in Gaza amid pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to address the crisis.
The decision by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) to slash the salaries of civil servants in the Gaza Strip sparked days of protests. Tens of thousands took to a square in central Gaza City in the largest protest since the 30% cut was announced. Demonstrators called on Abbas to sack his government.
Hamas seized control of Gaza Strip in 2007 and has been at loggerheads with Abbas’s Fatah party since.
Fatah runs the West Bank, the other part of the Palestinian territories separated from Gaza by Israeli territory.
After Hamas seized power, approximately 70,000 PA employees in Gaza lost their posts but they were kept on its payroll. Hamas set up a parallel administration with 50,000 staff, whose salaries the PA refuses to pay.
The PA said pay cuts were necessary because its budget has been hit by falling foreign aid.
In 2014, Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a unity government that was meant to resolve the dispute but there has been little progress.
Local elections scheduled for May have been suspended in the Gaza Strip due to infighting between Fatah and Hamas. The elections are expected to take place in the West Bank.
Hamas condemned the salary cuts. “This is an unjust and non-national decision that aims at creating crises and tightening the grip on our people in the Gaza Strip,” spokesman Abdul-Latif Qanou said in a statement.
Other groups in Gaza also condemned the cuts, with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine saying they were “illegal and unacceptable” and the Islamic Jihad saying they were meant to “drown” the residents of Gaza.
UN Middle East Envoy Nikolay Mladenov said he was “deeply concerned by the growing tensions in Gaza.”
He said that, while the Palestinian government faced difficult economic conditions, it should make spending cuts “with consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live.”
“While the Palestinian government needs to ensure its fiscal sustainability under increasingly difficult economic conditions, it is important that reforms or decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live,” he said.
Mladenov urged both parties to resolve the crisis and “bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division.”
Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza for a decade, saying the measure, which has restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, is needed to prevent Hamas from importing arms. The blockade has hit Gaza’s economy hard and unemployment is more than 40%, the World Bank said.
Israel called on the international community to take urgent action to solve the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which is facing severe water and electricity shortages.
Approximately 96% of Gaza’s water is reportedly not fit for drinking and the strip is crippled by electricity blackouts.
Gaza’s population is facing a stronger security grip from Hamas, which recently executed three Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. Hamas has launched a campaign to persuade any Israeli-recruited agents to come forward in return for more lenient punishment.
Palestinian and international human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the death penalty and urged Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to suspend it.
“Hamas authorities will never achieve true security or stability through firing squads or by the gallows, but rather through respect for international norms and the rule of law,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement.
The UN human rights office condemned “in the strongest terms” the executions. The rights office said the convictions were delivered for treason, which does not qualify as being among “most serious crimes.”
It noted the defendants were civilians convicted by a military court, “again in contravention of international law.” The office said the trial did not appear to meet fair-trial standards.
In a separate case, a military court in the Gaza Strip on March 19 sentenced two drug dealers to death, the first such punishment handed down by the Palestinian judiciary in a narcotics case.
“Such actions represented a threat to Palestinian national security, with its economic and political dimensions,” the court said. The sentences were condemned human rights groups.