Jordanian Banks Warn of Branch Closures if Hamas Gunmen Attack

All but one bank in territories vow to pay salaries from their own money; protesters storm Gaza bank.

Jordanian banks will close branches in the Palestinian territories if attacked by Hamas members there or within the kingdom, a Jordanian government spokesman said Monday.

The statement reflects the continuing tension between Hamas and Jordan, which has accused it of stockpiling weapons for attacks within the Hashemite Kingdom.

Also Monday, all but one of about 20 banks in the West Bank and Gaza said they would use their own funds to cover overdue salaries of Palestinian Authority employees that the Hamas-led government said it would pay by Monday.

The wages come to some $13 million.

"I will have to pay some of my debts and the rest will go towards buying milk and basic food items. It's one good step but we need our full salaries," said Ala al-Maswabi, a paramilitary policeman, at the Cairo-Amman Bank in Gaza.

Earlier Monday, some 30 people burst into the main branch of the Arab Bank in Gaza, demanding the salaries promised to them.

The people screamed at the bank manager and threw water on his desk, forcing bank officials to call police for help. The people were removed, and the bank was closed.

The Hamas-led government had said that about 40,000 civil servants would be paid Monday for the first time in three months. But it appeared that the money did not reach all of the promised accounts.

It appeared that only account holders with the Bank of Palestine, which serves about 10,000 civil servants, initially received salaries Monday.

Other banks had published an advertisement in local papers saying they still had not received money from the government.

The government has been unable to pay salaries since taking office in March due to a cut-off in international assistance.

Officials said last week they had collected enough money through local taxes to pay one-month's salary to low-earning civil servants. But more than 100,000 higher-earning workers still cannot be paid.

In the West Bank town of Nablus, policeman Mahmoud Hanain, 28, was disqualified from receiving partial payment of his wages because he makes 1,509 shekels a month, about $2 above the cutoff line.

"They can take the 9 shekels, I don't need them," Hanain said. "Just give me the money."

Protesters said their struggle had little to do with partisan politics.

"These are people who don't have money to buy milk," said policeman Raed Abu Ghoneima, one of the protesters who stormed a Gaza City branch of the Arab Bank. "It has nothing to do with politics; it's about wages."

The Palestinian banking association published an advertisement in local papers on Monday saying banks still had not received money from the government.

Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said Saturday that Arab Bank customers would have to collect their salaries from special post office accounts because the bank, one of the largest in the Arab world, is under pressure from the U.S. to halt its dealings with the Hamas government.

One of the protesters, policeman Talal Bustan, said he went to a post office to draw his salary, but was told there to go to the bank, which told him to go to the post office.

Some of those who did get paid wondered which of their creditors to pay first.

"I don't know what to do with this money," said Nabil Talat, 32, a father of three who received 1,300 shekels ($290). "I owe more than 6,000 shekels ($1,320). I'm thinking of hiding the money, because I don't know when this government is going to pay us again."

Quartet seeks to bring relief to unpaid employeesA new aid mechanism being crafted by the European Union on behalf of the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the EU, the United States, the United Nations and Russia - was expected to provide limited relief.

After meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the goal was to create a system that could funnel humanitarian aid to the Palestinians from many international donors.

Aides said the mechanism will include funds to pay "allowances" to some workers. But diplomats said the scope would be limited initially to those in the health sector.

Jordan threatens bank closures if Hamas attacksJordanian banks will close their branches in the Palestinian territories should they be targeted by Hamas, a government spokesman warned Monday.

However, Palestinian militants linked to Hamas issued a statement on Sunday warning banks against not paying salaries to government employees. The statement said such banks would be taking part in the siege imposed on the elected government, and this would not be tolerated.

The spokesman said that Jordanian banks were complying with international requirements when they refused to transfer money to the Hamas-led government.