Gaza public workers say Hamas not paying salaries

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian civil servants called on the Gaza Strip's Hamas government Monday to pay them full salaries, the clearest sign yet that Egypt's blockade of the territory is making it increasingly difficult for the Islamic militants to govern.

The civil servants are considered Hamas sympathizers and their public complaints about not getting paid in full over the past four months reflect growing discontent in Gaza.

Still, there were no signs of open revolt against Hamas, which has kept a tight grip on Gaza and its 1.7 million people since the group overran the territory in 2007.

Both Israel and Egypt sharply restricted access to Gaza after the Hamas takeover, though Egypt for years looked the other way as cement, fuel and other goods, including weapons, were smuggled into Gaza through hundreds of tunnels running under the border with Egypt.

That changed last summer when Egypt destroyed or sealed virtually all of the tunnels. The crackdown came as part of the Egyptian military's overthrow of then-ruler President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas is the Gaza offshoot of the regional Brotherhood, and Egypt's military alleged Islamic militants infiltrating into Egypt from Gaza were destabilizing the country, particularly Egypt's lawless Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Gaza.

The closure of the tunnel has meant losses of millions of dollars in tax income for the Hamas government.

At the same time, Brotherhood sympathizers in the Arab world who used to send donations to Gaza have largely rerouted their money to other flashpoints, mainly the civil war in Syria.

In a third financial setback, Hamas fell out with longtime patron and financial supporter Iran in late 2011, after the Palestinian group refused to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, an Iran ally, in his battle against rebels, many of them with ties to the Brotherhood.

In a news conference Monday, the civil servants' labor union said the Hamas government has only paid partial salaries to its 46,000 workers over the past four months. Ehab al-Nahal, a union chairman, said the civil servants understood the pressures Hamas faces but they are also struggling to get by and support their families.

"We fully understand the financial hardship experienced by the government under this unjust siege, but at the same time we deeply understand the suffering of the public sector employees who have lost decent life conditions due to the delays in getting paid and started facing hard times in providing the minimum necessities of life," he said.

The Gaza finance minister, Ziad al-Zaza, said the government needs $45 million each month to pay wages and operating expenses, but currently only has $31 million available.

Al-Zaza played down the extent of the money crunch, saying that "we are facing hardship and not a crisis."

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