Tens of thousands of Palestinians protested in Gaza City on Saturday against recent salary cuts announced by the Palestinian Authority.
The decision on Wednesday by the West Bank-based PA to impose pay cuts on its civil servants in the Gaza Strip has sparked anger among government employees affected. Demonstrators at Saturday’s protest, the largest since the 30 percent cut was announced, called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to sack his government.
A handful of protesters announced they would also begin a hunger strike.
On Friday, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah defended the salary cuts, saying they were necessary in order to “manage financial crises suffered by the Palestinian government due to reductions in international funds,” the Ma’an News agency quoted him as saying.
Hamdallah also blamed Hamas for the economic situation in the Gaza Strip, while also calling on the terror group to return to control of Gaza to the PA, “the only representative of the Palestinian people.”
Hamas “keeps its income for himself, while the PA has spent more than 17 billion dollars in the Gaza Strip during the last 10 years,” he said.
The decision further deepened the divide between the West Bank and Gaza — two territories that the Palestinians hope to turn into an independent state — and increased hardship in already impoverished Gaza.
The internationally backed PA, which controls the West Bank, ordered all of its roughly 50,000 workers to step down after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007. But it has continued to pay the salaries of the former policemen, teachers and civil servants.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade over Gaza since Hamas, a militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, took power. Israel says the measure, which has restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, is needed to prevent Hamas from importing arms. But the blockade has hit Gaza’s economy hard, and unemployment is now over 40 percent, according to the World Bank.
The faltering economy has remained afloat through sales of consumer goods. The PA employees have provided a large slice of the purchasing power that business owners rely on to keep their commerce alive.
Hamas, which hired more than 40,000 people to fill the gaps left by the absence of the Palestinian Authority workers, also struggles to pay its employees.
After repeated efforts to reconcile with Fatah failed, Hamas is increasingly relying on hefty taxes on imports, utility fees and customs to pay its employees just half of their regular salaries.
Hamas condemned the PA salary reducations as “abusive and irresponsible,” while the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group said they were “illegal and unacceptable,” according to Ma’an.
On Friday, the Islamic Jihad terror group held a rally in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis protesting the pay cuts, which demonstrators said were mean to “drown” the residents of Gaza, Ma’an reported.