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Ministers: We were not allowed to leave hotel in Gaza

April 21, 2015 10:03 P.M. (Updated: April 24, 2015 10:36 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Ministers in the Palestinian unity government have decried their treatment by Hamas during a visit to the Gaza Strip that ended in disarray on Monday, while Hamas officials have returned blame over the debacle.

The ministers, who were visiting the coastal enclave in the hope of solving an employee dispute, allege that Hamas prevented them from meeting anyone by keeping them in the hotel and not allowing visitors in to see them.

Minister of Health Jawad Awwad told Ma'an: "Hamas hindered our work and prevented us from communicating with people and with our friends," noting that the visiting delegation was kept under guard and no one was allowed into the hotel to meet with them.

He said: "We were not comfortable, and we felt a kind of offense," adding, "We were put under pressure. We cannot work under pressure."

A Hamas spokesman rejected the claims, saying the ministers had refused to leave the hotel.

The delegation of 40 government officials, including eight ministers, crossed into Gaza on Sunday in a bid to tackle a dispute over employees.

The question of government employees has been a major point of dispute between the Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas, which is based in the West Bank, and the rival Hamas movement, whose power base is in Gaza.

Since last year, when the two factions formed a unity government, Hamas has demanded that the government regulate the salaries of its 50,000 employees who have been on the books since the movement seized power in the enclave in 2007.

They took over from 70,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority who were forced out of their positions but have still been receiving their salaries.

However, the unity government has pledged to return the 70,000 former employees to their positions, saying that the Hamas workers would only be hired "according to need."

The delegation that arrived in Gaza on Sunday had intended to begin registering the former PA employees on Monday, with the registration period lasting until May 7.

However, Awwad alleged that Hamas refused to allow the registration.

Hamas denies ministers under 'siege'

The delegation planned on visiting ministry headquarters in Gaza to register the employees, but Awwad claimed: "We could not go to the headquarters of ministries because there were rallies and protests."

Minister of Religious Affairs Yousif Idies said it was "unacceptable and unfathomable" that Hamas "did not allow us to get to the ministry headquarters."

However, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied that the ministers had been under "siege" in the hotel.

He said they had refused to leave the hotel and had refused to go to the ministries to do their jobs.

He said that the decision to leave had been taken by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and had nothing to do with Hamas.

Abu Zahri added that the debacle had proven that the goal of the visit was only to register the former PA employees, and was not at all concerned with other issues faced by Gaza, including the fate of those currently employed by Hamas.

In an earlier statement, before the government delegation set out, Hamdallah said the other "priority" of the visit was the reconstruction of Gaza which was devastated by a 50-day war with Israel last summer that cost the lives of some 2,200 Palestinians and damaged or destroyed 160,000 homes.

Crisis 'bigger, deeper' than unity government

The Prime Minister, who did not take part in the delegation, denied on Monday that a stalemate had been reached between the Fatah-dominated PA and Hamas.

Hamdallah told Ma'an by phone from Indonesia that he will be visiting the Gaza Strip upon his return, and that he was optimistic all issues could be resolved.

He called on Palestinians not to lose hope in the unity government and said that he remained convinced of both the possibility and the urgency of solving all disputes with Hamas.

PFLP leader Jamil Mizher said that efforts were being made to calm things down, and that the registration of former PA employees would be postponed until the Hamdallah's visit.

However, Dawoud Shihab, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad group, which was present during a meeting with the unity government, said that the "crisis and the issue is bigger and deeper than the unity government."

He said the problem lay in the fact that "each side interprets agreement based on personal and factional opinion."

However, Shihab added that the ministers' departure was not "the end of the line and there are efforts to reach a solution."

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