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Palestinians vow to continue cost-of-living protest
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
11/09/2012
Fayyad announces financial steps to quell protests in W. Bank; Netanyahu orders transfer of NIS 250m. to PA to help ease crisis.
 
Palestinian activists on Tuesday vowed to continue protesting against the high cost of living despite Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s new measures to tackle the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank held the United States responsible for Monday’s scenes of anarchy and lawlessness in various parts of the West Bank. He also accused Washington of inciting Palestinians against the PA leadership.

Fayyad announced his new measures following the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah.

They include reducing the value-added tax to 15 percent and suspending a recent price hike for diesel, kerosene and gas fuels, he said.

Fayyad said the government also decided to cut the salaries of top PA officials and ministers, expenses for a number of PA ministries, and rent, travel and exchange coupons. He also announced that PA employees would receive half of their August salaries on Wednesday.

The PA prime minister blamed the current crisis on a deficit in the PA’s budget, the Hamas-Fatah power struggle, a lack of Arab financial aid and the fact that Israel continues to control 60 percent of the West Bank.

“Were it not for the occupation and its measures, the Palestinian Authority would have reached a point where it would no longer have to depend on additional foreign aid,” Fayyad said.

The PA government also decided to take measures to prevent “unjustified price increases” of basic goods in the West Bank, he added.

Fayyad said that while his government supported the people’s “absolute right to express their opinion peacefully and democratically,” it nevertheless strongly condemned scenes of chaos and attacks on private and public properties. He renewed his appeal to Arab countries to provide the Palestinians with urgent financial aid.

Shortly after the announcement, dozens of Palestinian protesters marched in Ramallah, chanting slogans against the PA and the Oslo Accords.

The protesters also called on the PA to stop security coordination with Israel. PA policemen prevented them from approaching the Mukata presidential compound, eyewitnesses said.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is currently on a visit to India.

Other West Bank cities witnessed similar protests, but, unlike Monday, no violence was reported. Palestinians said at least 50 people had been injured during clashes that erupted Monday in Hebron and Nablus, where protesters hurled stones and bottles at PA policemen.

Although most of the protests have been directed against Fayyad, demonstrators in some parts of the West Bank have also begun calling for the resignation of Abbas and the abrogation of the Oslo Accords.

Representatives of various Palestinian factions and youth groups reacted with disappointment to Fayyad’s new economic measures, saying they were inadequate.

Nader Yassin, one of the organizers of the protests in Nablus, denounced them as “frustrating” and vowed to continue demonstrating against the PA prime minister.

He added that Palestinians were expecting the government to reduce the price of basic goods such as bread and sugar.

Issa Amr, a leader of the protests in Hebron, accused Fayyad of working to “bypass” the demands of the people. He also expressed disappointment over Fayyad’s failure to cancel the Paris Protocol, which regulates economic relations between the PA and Israel.

Another activist, Thaer Anis, said Fayyad’s measures did not meet the demands of the protesters and vowed to continue demonstrations against the high cost of living.

Bassam Zakarneh, head of the PA employees’ union, also voiced disappointment, saying the measures were “below the expectations of the street.”

Bassam Salhi, secretarygeneral of the Palestinian People’s (Communist) Party, also described the measures as insufficient and called on the PA to “liberate itself from agreements that restrict the national economy.”

Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah spokesman and member of its revolutionary council, accused the US of driving Palestinians toward chaos by imposing a “financial blockade” on the PA leadership.

He also accused unnamed NGOs of inciting Palestinians to carry out acts of chaos and vandalism in the West Bank.

Another Fatah spokesman, Osama Kawassmeh, said he saw a direct link between the crisis and criticism leveled recently against Abbas by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. He claimed that Israel was exerting pressure on Abbas and the PA leadership to foil the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night ordered the Treasury to transfer NIS 250 million to the Palestinian Authority to help ease its financial crisis.

His special envoy Yitzhak Molho arranged the transfer with the PA. Earlier in the day, during a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Netanyahu said that Israel has taken a number of steps to help the PA.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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