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Rights group condemns PA decision to retire thousands of Gaza's civil servants

July 12, 2017 7:53 P.M. (Updated: July 13, 2017 11:03 A.M.)
Palestinian school children ride a rickshaw in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on September 9, 2015 (AFP/Said Khatib/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) released a statement on Tuesday condemning the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA)’s decision earlier this month to push more than 6,000 civil servants from the besieged Gaza Strip into early retirement, amid in an increasingly bitter feud between the Hamas movement and the Fatah-led PA.

PCHR said that the decision by the PA has no “legal justification” and violated Palestinian civil law as well as the United Nation’s International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights.

The group emphasized that it was “concerned that this decision will be a step leading to the Palestinian government’s abandonment of its legal obligations towards the Gaza Strip.”

In a statement released earlier in the month, PA spokesman Yousif al-Mahmoud said that the decision -- which would affect some 6,145 public sector employees -- as well as "previous procedures and any possible future procedures in this regard" were temporary moves seeking to pressure Hamas, the de facto ruling party in Gaza, into relinquishing its control over the small coastal enclave and reconciling with the PA.

Reconciliation, al-Mahmoud added, should be achieved through PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ plan, which calls for the dissolution of Hamas’ “administrative committee” ruling the Gaza Strip, the implementation of a national consensus government with full sovereignty over Gaza, and a roadmap for general elections across the occupied Palestinian territory.

However, such “temporary” policies have had devastating impacts on everyday life for Gaza’s residents, particularly in regards to local access to life-saving medical treatment and the besieged territory’s electricity supply.

PCHR called the PA’s policies in the Gaza Strip “inhumane” and “unlawful,” adding that the decision to retire thousands of Gaza-based civil servants would “aggravate the already deteriorated economic and social situations in Gaza,” owing to Israel’s decade-long siege on the small Palestinian territory.

“The government’s decision unveil the PA’s strategic trend, jeopardizing the unity of the PA’s territories and deepening the actual separation between the Gaza Strip and West Bank that has already been achieved by Israel,” the group said.

The PA’s decision also “promotes the discrimination between the West Bank and Gaza Strip's civil servants,” PCHR added, noting that many civil servants in Gaza were already experiencing poverty from various pay cuts implemented following Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007.

The group went on to demand that the PA rescind the decision, and all other decisions that have adversely affected the lives of Gaza’s two million residents.

The PA must “respect the Palestinian law, stop all measures that would lead to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, assume its legal and administrative responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip and immediately reverse the unlawful decision to put public servants on early retirement which aims at targeting public servants’ livelihoods.”

Numerous attempts have been made in the past to reconcile Hamas and Fatah since they came into violent conflict in 2007, shortly after Hamas’ 2006 victory in general elections held in the Gaza Strip.

However, Palestinian leadership has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises of reconciliations, as both movements have frequently blamed each other for numerous political failures.

The PA has been the focus of fierce condemnation in recent months after being accused of deliberately sending the impoverished Gaza Strip further into a humanitarian catastrophe in order to wrestle control of the territory from Hamas.

The PA caused anger in Gaza in April after cutting salaries to its Gaza-based employees by up to 30 percent, while also deciding to discontinue payments to some 277 former political prisoners of Israel, with reports indicating that the move targeted former prisoners in Gaza and those affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank.

More recently, Hamas-affiliated Palestinian lawmakers have accused the PA of failing to pay the salaries of 37 Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) members living in the occupied West Bank.

In May, the PA decided to slash funding for Israeli fuel to the coastal enclave, as Israeli authorities acceded to PA demands to dramatically reduce its electricity supply to Gaza, which was already reeling from lack of adequate access to electricity and fuel.

Other policies implemented by the PA in recent weeks, including allegedly halting medical referrals to patients in Gaza to receive medical treatment outside of the territory and cutting its funding to the medical sector in the besieged enclave, which has seen the typical $4 million monthly budget of Gaza’s health ministry plummet to just $500,000, have also greatly exacerbated the dire situation of residents in Gaza.

The PA also decided last month to block 11 Palestinian news websites -- all allegedly affiliated with either the Hamas movement or Muhammad Dahlan, a political rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which has been condemned by rights groups as a "serious violation of freedom of the press and expression."
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