GAZA (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority did not pay the salaries of its employees in Gaza this month, in a move that could threaten an already-faltering unity deal with its Islamist rivals, Hamas.
The failure to pay March’s salary round as scheduled on Tuesday prompted anger and suspicion in the economically-stricken Gaza Strip.
That suspicion was fuelled by the fact that President Mahmoud Abbas’s Western-backed authority did pay the wages of its employees in the West Bank, which it controls.
The authority’s finance ministry in Ramallah said the payment delay in Gaza was because of “technical issues”.
On Thursday, frustrated workers disrupted work at two banks in Gaza and blocked the entrance to a third, witnesses said. They expressed doubt about the fate of their jobs, amid a long-running power struggle between Abbas and Hamas.
“We hope President Abbas will send our salaries. We have become beggars,” said 34-year-old Tamer Ghaben. “We are trying to keep out of jail because we are in debt to stores.”
Emad Baker, 46, said he spent most of the time outside his house to avoid being asked for money by his wife and 10 children. “Enough is enough ... people are living through a tragedy,” said Baker.
A year ago Abbas slashed the salaries of 60,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza by 30 percent in an attempt to put pressure on Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, effectively creating two rival administrations in the Palestinian Territories.
Several attempts at reconciliation, most recently in 2014, have failed to produce a power-sharing government, and analysts say Abbas is now trying to force a resolution.
In a recent attempt to salvage the new reconciliation deal Egypt’s chief of intelligence, Abbas Kamel, met Abbas in Ramallah.
Abbas insists that Hamas must give up security and administrative control of Gaza. “If they refuse we will not be responsible for what happens there,” Abbas told the leader of his own party, Fatah, on April 8.
Economists said the wage cuts would also shrink the tax revenue collected by Hamas - which it uses to pay the 40,000 employees it has hired in Gaza since 2007.
Hamas has for years been unable to secure full payment of its employees, especially after Egypt closed most smuggling tunnels into Gaza, depriving Hamas of tax that it collected on incoming goods.
Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; editing by David Stamp