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Hamas to 'distribute land' among Gaza's unpaid civil servants

Nov. 21, 2015 6:24 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 22, 2015 11:02 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Gaza's de facto leaders Hamas on Saturday announced plans to distribute land among civil servants hired after 2007 whose salaries the Palestinian Authority has refused to pay.

Hamas' finance minister Ziad al-Thatha made the announcement during a symposium in Gaza City, where he also said the employees would be exempted from unpaid electricity and municipal bills.

He said that memorandums and protocols had already been signed between his ministry, municipal councils, and Gaza's land authority, electricity company, and banks.

Al-Thatha said around 1,000 dunams (250 acres) of public property had been allocated for the purpose across Gaza, although he did not specify where. He said the land "badly needs to be inhabited for political, security, social, and economic reasons."

The decision is likely to fuel tensions between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PA. The question of Gaza's government employees has been a major point of dispute between the two rival factions.

Since the factions agreed to form a national unity government -- consisting of independent technocrats -- in June last year, Hamas has demanded that the government regulate the salaries of its 50,000 civil servants.

They were hired after the movement took power in Gaza in 2007. They took over from 70,000 PA employees who were forced out of their positions but have still been receiving their salaries.

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

A high-profile delegation of government ministers headed to the coastal enclave to solve the dispute in June, but the visit quickly ended in disarray, with each side blaming the other for its failure.

The unity government has not been able to function in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas' ministries have continued to hold power.

Al-Thatha on Saturday accused Abbas of failing to recognize Gaza's civil servants, and said that all the PA's decisions regarding the employee dispute had been "unreasonable, illogical, and at odds with all signed agreements."

He also criticized the PA for continuing to pay the salaries of the PA's former civil servants in Gaza, estimating that it was costing the PA $80-90 million every year.

The employee dispute has played a critical role in Fatah and Hamas' deteriorating relations, but has been compounded by a range of other issues.

Earlier this week, Hamas accused the PA of excluding it in talks with Egypt on reopening the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza. Fatah also expressed dismay earlier this year at reports that Hamas has been holding indirect talks with Israel aimed at establishing a long-term truce.
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