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West Bank Palestinians strike as Israeli sanctions bite

Dec. 19, 2012 12:31 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 21, 2012 9:47 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Reuters) -- Palestinian government employees in the West Bank began a two-day general strike on Wednesday to protest against a delay in the payment of their wages because of Israeli economic sanctions.

Israel is withholding some $100 million in monthly customs revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf as punishment for their successful bid at the UN General Assembly last month to gain de-facto statehood recognition.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, was experiencing a deep financial crisis even before the move, and its 153,000 public sector workers have seen their salaries repeatedly issued late this year.

Around 50,000 workers took part in Wednesday's stoppage. West Bank security forces, a pillar of security and cooperation with Israel, and staff in the Gaza Strip did not participate.

"This strike is against Israel's piracy," said Bassam Zakarneh, chief of the government employees' union said.

"The situation is very grave, and the services to the people are much reduced by the strike," he said. "(People) can't even afford transportation to their workplaces."

Government workers last received salaries for October, which were paid belatedly at the end of last month. There was no word on when November or December wages might be handed over.

Israel said the Palestinian UN initiative contravened their peace accords and has threatened to withhold tax returns for four months to cover outstanding Palestinian debts with Israeli utility firms.

Strikes and protests over austerity measures turned violent in September. Demonstrators pelted security forces with rocks and called for the ousting of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Wednesday's action appeared much more subdued and there were no public protests, with Palestinians blaming Israel rather than their own government for their current economic woes.

"This puts about a million citizens in Palestine in the cycle of poverty," said Fayyad, speaking of the Israeli sanctions. "We're talking about doubling the rate of poverty in Palestine during a maximum period of two months from today if the situation continues as it is," he told Reuters on Monday.

Arab countries have yet to fulfill pledges to offset the Israeli measures with cash donations
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