Gaza authorities are paying the salaries of some 30,000 Hamas government bureaucrats in the Gaza Strip after a recent deal to transfer $15 million from Qatar. The payments began on Wednesday and are expected to continue through Saturday. Police forces, emergency rescue services and the security forces in Gaza are among those receiving payments.
The staffing of government offices in Gaza has been a sticking point in the longstanding efforts to reconcile Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority. The government in Ramallah does not deem staffers hired by Hamas over the past decade in Gaza as employees of the Palestinian Authority and have therefore refused to pay their salaries.
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Following Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 which Hamas won, in 2007, Hamas forcibly took control of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. About 40,000 Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza, some of whom have not worked since the takeover, have been receiving only about 50 percent of their regular salaries from the seat of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
This week’s payments follow Qatar's announcement that it would transfer about $90 million to Gaza. About $15 million of the sum reached Gaza on Thursday. A Hamas official told Haaretz that the money will continue to be used in the coming months to pay salaries.
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The funds will also be used in part to cover compensations that will be paid to the families of those killed in mass demonstrations along the Gaza border with Israel since the end of the March of Return. Those injured by Israeli weapons fire in clashes with Israeli security forces on the border will also receive compensation. Some of the demonstrators have tried to breach the border fence and in more recent months, incendiary devices in the form of kites and balloons have been launched from Gaza to the Israel side of the border.
Hamas has also decided to use a portion of the Qatari money to make monthly payments of 1,200 shekels ($325) to create 10,000 jobs for unemployed Gaza residents, including doctors and teachers. Members of Hamas’ military wing will be paid from tax proceeds collected by Hamas in Gaza and not from the Qatari funds.
One proposal that has been raised in the course of the reconciliation talks is to have a portion of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas employees in Gaza retire and combine the two sets of employees into a single workforce. But because the on-again, off-again reconciliation talks have faltered, the proposal has not been brought to fruition.
Since the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, Israel has imposed tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of the Strip. Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza, has imposed its own restrictions.
According to sources in Gaza, the payments to government workers, sums that average 1,400 shekels per person, have boosted business in marketplaces in the coastal enclave and at restaurants and places of entertainment. “There is no doubt that the payment of the wages, in addition to extending the number of hours of electricity, has given people breathing space, but it’s localized treatment because without a strategic plan that also makes the export and import of goods and a resumption of manufacturing possible, this won’t lead to real recovery,” Dr. Omar Shaban, an economist, told reporters in Gaza.
At the same time, Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency, which is closely associated with the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, took the unusual step on Friday of publishing a column accusing Hamas of what it called the sale of Palestinian blood for $15 million. “Fifteen million dollars has been paid to Hamas at the expense of Palestinian blood, and the leadership of the organization is taking advantage of this money to continue with the Zionist-American plan to separate the Strip from the West Bank,” the column read.
The article said that the Qatari money had entered the Strip with Israel’s consent through the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border and alleged that the salaries are to be paid based on a list that Israel approved. “Hamas websites are glorifying the payment of the salaries as if it were an achievement and a victory, but in practice it proves that the organization’s leadership is prepared to forge an alliance with the devil to maintain power in the Gaza Strip,” the column declared.
Hamas officials, it should be noted, claim that the payment of the salaries and the easing of the situation is the direct result of Palestinian pressure of the kind reflected in the mass demonstrations on the Israeli border since March 30. Health Ministry sources in Gaza have reported that over 250 Gazans have been killed in the clashes since March.
Hamas, according to officials, is coordinating activity along the border with other Palestinian factions in the Strip and will hold non-violent protests until the siege of Gaza is completely lifted. In advance of Friday’s demonstrations, the organizing committee said the participants would not approach the border fence or try to break through the fence or launch incendiary devices, as occurred last week.