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Strikes paralyze West Bank

Oct. 23, 2012 3:54 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 25, 2012 8:11 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority cabinet on Tuesday called on civil servants to go back to work as strikes in ministries, universities, schools and refugee camps paralyzed the West Bank.

The cabinet in its weekly meeting said employees who continued to strike would be "held liable."

Palestinian Authority employees, including public university staff and school teachers, suspended work Tuesday over the late and incomplete payment of their salaries.

On Thursday, the Palestinian Authority finance ministry announced it was distributing partial September salaries after repeatedly delaying payment to employees and capping payments to high earners.

Ministers in Ramallah urged unions to "continue the dialogue" and said that while the government understood unions' needs, the financial crisis and challenges facing the PA provided "limited possibilities."

The cabinet urged donor countries, especially Arab countries, to keep providing support to the Palestinian people.

University staff are also embroiled in an ongoing dispute with the Ministry of Education over employee benefits and demands to abolish taxes on end-of-service pay.

Amjad Barham, head of the union for university staff, said the union would call a general strike if the ministry continued its "policy of procrastination and intransigence."

UNRWA staff on strike

Employees of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, also went on strike Tuesday to protest cuts in the agency's services and the dismissal of 130 workers

UNRWA health clinics, schools and offices were closed and shops shut their doors for two hours.

Ahmad Abu Khayran, who chairs a popular committee in Hebron's al-Fawwar refugee camp, said UNRWA's austerity measures were making life harder for refugees who were already suffering from the economic crisis.

Abu Khayran told Ma'an that UNRWA was trying to "shirk its responsibilities" to refugees and treating them as Europeans or Americans, forcing them to pay 25 to 40 percent of their medical costs.

He said UNRWA should reduce the wages of its foreign staff instead of increasing medical expenses for refugees, as well as pressuring donor nations to meet their obligations.

UNRWA criticized the strike, which it said had prevented 51,000 from attending school. The agency said it remained committed to meeting the needs of refugees, but a 50 percent drop in funding since 2010 had forced the agency to "re-prioritize" its emergency services.

Basic services -- including schools, primary health clinics and food aid -- are not affected by the restructuring, the UN agency said in a statement.

UNRWA said it would continue working to secure resources to maintain its emergency services, which depend on donor response to its emergency appeal.

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