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Anger erupted in the besieged Gaza Strip on Wednesday after employees of the Palestinian Authority (PA) received their March salaries on Tuesday with at least a 30 percent salary cut, sparking protests in the coastal enclave among already struggling PA employees.
A number of civil servants in the besieged enclave told Ma’an that they were paid only 70 percent of their normal salaries, while others from the PA’s Ministry of Education said their salaries equaled only 30 percent of their usual salaries.
“This is completely illegal and we cannot accept this,” Walid al-Awad, a leader of the Palestinian People’s Party (PPS) said in a statement, adding that it was the PA officials who had asked Gaza-based PA employees not to continue working after Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.
Al-Awad was referring to the PA’s longstanding controversy in the besieged territory, when following Hamas' election win in 2006 and a violent conflict that ensued between the group and Fatah -- the ruling party in the PA -- in 2007 that led to Hamas' takeover of Gaza, the PA encouraged their Gaza-based civil employees to cease working in protest of the Hamas government.
While tens of thousands of PA employees have continued receiving government salaries after the PA encouraged their employees to refuse working with Hamas, some 50,000 others decided to continue their work under Hamas and have subsequently faced irregular and partial salaries from the PA, and at times no payment at all.
However, employees who refused work with Hamas continued to receive regular salary payments from the PA up until Tuesday.
Yousif al-Mahmoud, a spokesman for the PA, told Ma’an that the deductions were made only to salary bonuses, without any deductions from base salaries.
Salary cuts in Gaza were due to a financial crisis caused by the “crippling financial blockade imposed on the occupied state of Palestine," al-Mahmoud said, adding that international financial support for the PA has shrunk to some 70 percent compared to previous years.
Al-Mahmoud also blamed the Hamas government in Gaza for contributing to the PA’s financial crisis, saying that the Hamas movement continued to collect government revenues without sending it the PA’s government treasury and has consequently aggravated the financial crisis.
“The de-facto government in the Gaza Strip has rebelled against the constitutional court created by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and instead created an administrative committee that operates as an alternative to the Palestinian government," he added.
However, al-Awad rejected this justification, saying that if the PA’s decision was owing to a financial crisis, then deductions should have been made to all PA civil servants, and not just those in the Gaza Strip.
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) also condemned the decision, describing the move as “illegal and unacceptable,” particularly in light of the dire living conditions already experienced by Palestinians in the territory.
Ayed Yaghi, a Gaza-based leader of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), said that "We are afraid this clear discrimination is an introduction to more measures against Gaza, which will increase the state of disagreement and eventually segregate Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian territory."
The Hamas movement called the decision “abusive and irresponsible.”
Hamas’ spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement that the movement has announced “solidarity with the demands of all public sector employees without exceptions” and urged the PA to reverse “futile and irresponsible procedures immediately, and to stop discriminating between our people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
Palestinian factions and political parties in the Gaza Strip have decided to hold a meeting as soon as possible to discuss the PA’s controversial decision.
Meanwhile, in the central Gaza Strip, leaders of the Fatah movement submitted their resignation from the party in protest against the salary cuts.
Said Saftawi, deputy chairperson of the Fatah movement in central Gaza, said that the resignations were in response to the “unjust” decision by the PA, and urged Abbas to intervene.
Meanwhile, tens of PA civil servants in Gaza protested on Wednesday at the Unknown Soldier’s square in Gaza city against the decision, with protesters holding signs demanding that the PA reverse its decision.
Aref Abu Jarad, head of the PA employees’ union in Gaza, said during the demonstration that the decision represented the political, legal, and administrative disconnect between the PA and the Gaza Strip, adding that the PA “reinforces the conflict” and has aimed to “break the will of the Palestinian people.”
Abu Jarad also demanded that the PA halt the “arbitrary procedures” and held the PA leadership responsible for all policies that would have negative effects on the Palestinian national struggle.
Abu Jarad confirmed that they would continue to protest until the PA corrects their “salary massacre.”