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Banking chaos in Gaza amid unity govt employee confusion

June 5, 2014 6:54 P.M. (Updated: June 7, 2014 12:38 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The union of public sector employees in Gaza on Thursday blamed the newly formed Palestinian unity government for banking chaos which started Wednesday and continued into Thursday in the coastal enclave.

When Palestinian Authority government employees went to withdraw their monthly wages from banks on Wednesday, they were joined by government workers from the previous Hamas-affiliated government seeking their pay, too.

This resulted in clashes and closures as executives sought to avoid bank runs.

In a news conference, the union's speaker Muhammad Siyam accused the unity government of "discriminating between civil servants based in the West Bank and those based in Gaza."

After the unity government was sworn in on Monday, the political echelon of both Fatah and Hamas appeared to have failed to address basic arrangements such as who should pay salaries of about 50,000 employees including security officers who were employed by the former Hamas-run government.

Siyam warned that the unity government would say that special committees need to be formed to study the issue of Gaza employees and determine who will be eligible to regular salaries.

"We will not accept the formation of committees as a pretext by the unity government to justify not paying our salaries. It is our right to receive our salaries from the government," he added.

The union of Gaza employees, added Siyam, does not accept the "irresponsible remarks" by unity government officials labeling some Gaza civil servants "legitimate" and others "illegitimate."

Similarly, the Hamas-affiliated wing of the Palestinian Legislative Council urged the government to "show responsibility" and pay salaries for all Gaza government employees without exception.

Deputy speaker of the bloc Ismail al-Ashqar urged unity government's premier Rami Hamdallah in a statement to "amend the serious mistake of not paying salaries for all government employees in Gaza."

Crisis continues Thursday

Hundreds of Palestinian Authority civil servants crowded Thursday morning in front of banks in the Gaza Strip hoping they could withdraw their salaries, but they were unable to due to the previous day's clashes.

Ma'an reporters observed that most banks did not even operate their ATM machines. Police officers deployed near banks readying for any emergencies.

One PA employee, who receives a monthly wage from the government in Ramallah, told Ma'an that as he waited near an ATM of the Arab Bank in the central Gaza Strip, Hamas-affiliated police officers "arrived in a jeep and threatened us."

An officer, he added, "warned that no one can receive a salary before we receive our salaries."

The employee, identifying himself only as Ibrahim, urged the PA to end the trouble as soon as possible "because most Gaza-based employees are impatiently awaiting their salaries to pay their dues."

According to a bank manager, who asked to remain unidentified, told Ma'an that it wasn't clear whether banks could open later Thursday.

The Palestinian Monetary Authority would decide whether to open banks or not, he added, highlighting that bank managements are "worried of possible assaults if they operate."

However, the governor of the authority Jihad al-Wazir said the PMA did not close any bank branch in Gaza.

"It was Gaza police who ordered banks to remain closed," he said in a statement.

"Safety of our citizens and bank officers is our top priority," al-Wazir added. "We hope the crisis will be ended at a political level as soon as possible for the sake of stability."

Also Thursday, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine denounced what it described in a statement as "regrettable events" near Gaza bank branches.

The DFLP said economic institutions and banks in Gaza ought to be able to operate freely and to be protected against "assailants and frivolous ones."

Closure of banks forcibly by security services in Gaza is unacceptable, the statement added.

It urged the newly formed Palestinian unity government to "take responsibility for all Gaza employees without discrimination."

The unity government, according to the DFLP, should not ignore the problems resulting from Hamas-Fatah rivalry and all victims of that rivalry including security officers hired in 2005, people killed during the Israeli military offensive 2008-2009, and public sector employees whose salaries have been suspended among others.

Similarly, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine released a statement warning of the consequences of what it called the "bank events" in Gaza.

The statement noted that the unity government was created upon a "bilateral agreement" between Fatah and Hamas which divided authorities and powers between themselves.

"Preventing employees from getting their wages is rejected and denounced and it is a negative indicator warning that rivalry between both sides hasn’t been overcome as it was claimed."

The statement warned of possible aggravation of the situation if the crisis isn't dealt with responsibly.

The Palestinian People's Party, separately, voiced concern over the Gaza events.

"The former Hamas-run government should pay all the money it has, and the unity government should pay salary advances to Gaza employees who used to receive their salaries from the Hamas-run government," PPP official Walid al-Awad suggested.
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