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Hamdallah defends salary cuts in Gaza, demands Hamas hand over power to PA

April 7, 2017 6:27 P.M. (Updated: April 15, 2017 8:35 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah called on leaders of the Hamas movement to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which he called "the only representative of the Palestinian people,” during a press conference Friday when he also defended a PA decision to slash salaries of civil servants in Gaza.

The PA, which governs the occupied West Bank, that made huge cuts to the salaries of PA civil servants in Gaza, ranging from cuts of 30 to 70 percent of original salaries.

The press conference came following his meeting with Tunisian Prime Minister Yousif al-Shahid.

During the press conference, Hamdallah claimed that the base salaries of PA government employees in Gaza “were not touched,” but rather that deductions were made only to monthly salary allowances or bonuses, in order to “manage financial crises suffered by the Palestinian government due to reductions in international funds.”

Hamdallah criticized Hamas, the de-facto ruler of Gaza since 2007, saying that Hamas “keeps its income for itself, while the PA has spent more than 17 billion dollars in the Gaza Strip during the last 10 years.”

According to Hamdallah, the PA started decreasing expenses last year, beginning with the security sector, where expenses were decreased by 25 percent,” due to international financial support for the PA that has shrunk to some 70 percent compared to previous years.

The decision to cut salaries has sparked angry protests in Gaza among already struggling PA employees.

“This is completely illegal and we cannot accept this,” Walid al-Awwad, a leader of the Palestinian People’s Party (PPS) said in a statement, noting that after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the Fatah-led PA had encouraged their Gaza-based employees not to continue working in protest of the new Hamas-led government.

Some 50,000 employees who decided to continue their work under Hamas subsequently faced irregular and partial salaries from the PA, and at times no payment at all. Meanwhile, tens of the thousands of employees who refused work with Hamas continued to receive regular salary payments from the PA. The new salary cuts have reportedly affected all PA employees in Gaza.

Yousif al-Mahmoud, a spokesman for the PA, spoke to Ma’an at the time, reiterating Hamdallah’s claims that deductions were made only to salary bonuses, without any deductions from base salaries, and criticisms of Hamas.

Al-Mahmoud blamed the Hamas government in Gaza for contributing to the PA’s financial crisis, saying that the Hamas movement continued to collect government revenues without sending it the PA’s government treasury and has consequently aggravated the financial crisis.

“The de facto government in the Gaza Strip has rebelled against the constitutional court created by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and instead created an administrative committee that operates as an alternative to the Palestinian government," he added.

However, al-Awwad rejected this justification, saying that if the PA’s decision was owing to a financial crisis, then deductions should have been made to all PA civil servants, and not just those in the Gaza Strip.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) also condemned the decision, describing the move as “illegal and unacceptable,” particularly in light of the dire living conditions already experienced by Palestinians in the territory.

Ayed Yaghi, a Gaza-based leader of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), said that "we are afraid this clear discrimination is an introduction to more measures against Gaza, which will increase the state of disagreement and eventually segregate Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian territory."

The Hamas movement called the decision “abusive and irresponsible.”

Meanwhile, in the central Gaza Strip, leaders of the Fatah movement submitted their resignation from the party in protest against the salary cuts.

Protests continued on Thursday in different districts across Gaza, with tens of doctors working for the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza protesting to demand the PA back down on the decision.

An official from the health ministry in eastern Gaza, Muhammad Ezghir, demanded that those whose salaries were cut be reimbursed, adding that he believed the decision was not just financially motivated, but that the decision “is aiming to separate Gaza from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

“Protests will continue until the PA achieves equality between all employees in West Bank and Gaza Strip,” Ezghir said, adding that an intervention by president Mahmoud Abbas was “necessary” in order to end “the unfairness practiced against employees in Gaza Strip.”

Terns of PA employees also protested in the Unknown Soldier square Thursday against the decision, where protests have been taking place since Tuesday.

Leader of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) Nabeel Diyab said of the protesters that “they are delivering a message to decision makers that their voices must be heard and that the PA should be forced to back down from this dangerous step.”

Diyab said that the income of civil servants should not be “manipulated” and that “there is no legal or humanitarian law that justifies this sudden move,” while he stressed the importance and necessity for popular and national protests.

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