Palestinians face boycott threats over Hamas wages: PM

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Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - The international community has threatened to boycott the Palestinian leadership if it pays the salaries of former Hamas employees in Gaza, prime minister Rami Hamdallah told AFP on Sunday.

In an exclusive interview, Hamdallah said he had been warned he would face problems if he visited the Gaza Strip without first sorting out the salaries issue.

The densely populated Palestinian coastal territory was the target of a 50-day Israeli offensive in July and August aimed at halting militant rocket and mortar fire into the Jewish state.

Hamdallah, who heads the Palestinian government of national consensus which took office on June 2, said the question of wages had become the main stumbling block to an intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal.

"This unity government should control both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but there are many things blocking its work," he said.

"Putting Hamas employees on the government payroll is the main problem which is preventing the government from working in the Gaza Strip."

Since signing the agreement in April, Hamas has demanded that the new government take responsibility for paying its 45,000 employees, some 27,000 of whom are civil servants, he said. The rest are understood to be members of the Hamas police and security forces.

Before the Hamas government stepped down in June, it had been unable to pay their wages for months because of a biting economic crisis.

But Hamdallah said his government had been warned against channelling money to anyone employed by Hamas, which is blacklisted by the United States and Europe as a terror organisation.

- Dependent on aid -

"The government and the banks operating in the Palestinian territories were warned that if they make these payments to former Hamas government employees in Gaza then the government and the people will be boycotted," he said.

"If this happens, the Palestinian banking system will face a huge problem that will threaten the Palestinian situation in general," he told AFP.

The Palestinians are heavily dependent on international aid, with a boycott likely to have a devastating financial impact on its financial viability.

At the end of August, a senior Palestinian official told AFP the government wanted to pay the wages in question, but was looking for "guarantees" that doing so would not jeopardise international aid.

But he said an unidentified "third party" was working to solve the crisis by delivering the payments, with "positive indications" it would be resolved soon.

In June, Qatar said it would contribute a total of $60 million (44 million euros) towards the payment of the Gaza salaries, although so far no money has been transferred.

Hamdallah's remarks came a day after president Mahmud Abbas lashed out at Hamas for effectively running a parallel administration and preventing the consensus government from operating in Gaza.

Hamdallah, a 56-year-old former academic, said some ministers in the consensus administration had been unable to exercise their authority in Gaza.

"President Abbas and myself want ministries in Gaza to work as they do in the West Bank, but for that, staff need to take their instructions from the minister," he said.

"Some of them continue to follow the instructions of ministers of the former Hamas government."

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