GAZA (Ma’an) -- Gaza security forces of the Hamas-run Ministry of Interior raided the office for the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Department for Refugee Affairs on Sunday, amid escalating turmoil between the ruling party of the besieged coastal enclave and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) government.
A spokesperson for the department said in a statement that forces raided the office without prior notice, and demanded that staff temporarily leave the premises while a search was conducted for unknown reasons.
Gaza Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Buzm reacted by denying that the department had been shut down, and also denied that the department’s director Zakariya al-Agha was detained, despite the fact that the original report had not made these claims.
Al-Buzm did not directly deny that the raid itself had been carried out.
The raid came after the United Nations envoy for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov expressed his “deep concerns”
over “growing tensions” in the besieged Gaza Strip, amid ongoing protests
against a decision
by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to drastically cut salaries for its employees in the poverty-stricken enclave.
PA civil servants in Gaza said they received their March salaries with at least a 30 percent salary cuts -- with some reporting as much as a 70 percent reduction to their monthly wages.
The UN official echoed criticisms voiced in recent days that the "discriminatory" deductions only affected PA civil servants in Gaza and not those working in the occupied West Bank, as Palestinians have further expressed concern that the cuts would only continue to isolate Gazans from the rest of the Palestinian territory.
As the PA has also attempted to shift blame on Hamas
, the de facto ruling party of the coastal enclave, for allegedly collecting government revenues without sending it the PA treasury, Mladenov also “urge(d) the responsible parties to work together to find a solution to the current crisis and call(ed) on all factions to allow the Palestinian (Authority) Government to assume its responsibility in Gaza.”
The Hamas movement released a statement Sunday reiterating its condemnation of the salary cuts, and accused the PA government of “racism” in its treatment of Gazans.
“We, the Hamas movement, express our complete solidarity with employees and their rights. Achieving job security and social justice for our people irrespective of political factors is one of the requirements of national unity,” the statement said.
“We declare our complete willingness to work with all factions to compel the government to commit to its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip and execute all understandings and agreements toward ending the social and political deterioration,” the statement said.
Hamas said they held the government of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah “completely responsible for this crisis, as well as for its consequences and solutions,” and called on the PA to “treat all Palestinians in both Gaza Strip and West Bank equally and not act with racism.”
Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since winning the majority of votes in a 2006 election in the besieged coastal enclave, which erupted into a violent conflict between the movement and their rivals Fatah as they both attempted to consolidate control over the small Palestinian territory.
Despite numerous attempts at reconciling Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian leadership has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises of reconciliation and holding long-overdue elections, as both movements have frequently blamed each other for numerous political failures.
Critics of the PA decision to cut salaries in Gaza have noted that after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the PA encouraged its Gaza-based employees not to continue working in protest of the new Hamas-led government.
Some 50,000 employees who decided to continue their work under Hamas subsequently faced irregular and partial salaries from the PA
, and at times no payment at all. Meanwhile, tens of the thousands of employees who refused to work with Hamas continued to receive regular salary payments from the PA. The new salary cuts have reportedly affected both groups.