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Palestinian Authority to pay Hamas employees 'as soon as possible'

Aug. 31, 2014 10:10 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 1, 2014 10:48 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- The Palestinian Authority will pay its employees' August salaries on time and Hamas civil servants in Gaza "as soon as possible," a spokesman for the unity government said Saturday.

On Tuesday, the Palestinians and Israel agreed an Egypt-mediated ceasefire to end a deadly 50-day war with Israel in Gaza that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians.

Saturday's move comes after a row over pay erupted between the two Palestinian factions in June when the PA's Gaza-based staff received their wages but their Hamas counterparts went empty-handed.

"The salaries of the civil servants with the Authority will be paid next week and the government is trying to pay those of Hamas as soon as possible," government spokesman Ehab Bseiso told AFP.

Under a reconciliation deal signed in April with the West Bank-based Palestine Liberation Organization, which dominates the PA, Hamas disbanded its Gaza government.

Since then the movement has insisted that the PA should pay the salaries of Hamas' 42,000 civil servants.

The PA refused to pay the officials in June because they were appointed after Hamas ousted bitter rivals Fatah -- which dominates the PLO -- from Gaza in 2007 and therefore were not registered as its employees.

The pay row was the first challenge to the new Palestinian unity government, formed to try to end years of Palestinian rivalry, and Qatar stepped in to cover the costs to former Hamas employees.

A Palestinian official speaking on condition of anonymity said the PA will have to ensure the payments do not jeopardize international aid.

"Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization by many abroad," the source said. "The government wants to obtain guarantees that it is allowed to pay these wages."

The movement has been crippled by an Israeli blockade of Gaza and the destruction of tunnels to Egypt and was unable to pay thousands of officials for months.

After Hamas civil servants failed to receive their salaries in June, gunmen attacked banks in Gaza, forcing Hamas to close them for six days.

It was then that Qatar -- a main Hamas ally -- intervened, saying it would contribute a total of $60 million (44 million euros).

The payments from Doha were then hit by the seven-week conflict between Hamas and Israel that broke out on July 8.

Bseiso said 177,000 civil servants were registered with the Authority -- 70,000 in Gaza and 107,000 in the West Bank.

Each month, their salaries cost around $200 million, $120 million of which is covered by taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian territories, he said.

Some $57 million comes from the Palestinian budget and $35 million from international aid, the spokesman added.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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