Palestinian pay cuts add to mounting Gaza woes

Sunday 16/04/2017
Pay cuts not welcome. Palestinians protest against deductions on their salaries in Gaza, on April 8. (Reuters)

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.