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Mountains of garbage piled up across Gaza on Saturday and acrid smoke billowed from burning refuse bins as a municipal workers' strike over unpaid salaries spread to the territory's five biggest towns, in the widest sign of public dissatisfaction with the Palestinians' new coalition government.
The strike began last week in Gaza City, where workers walked off the job to protest six months of overdue wages. By Saturday, the walkout's reach had extended to encompass 15,000 workers there and in Khan Younis, Rafah, Deir el-Balah and Jebaliya.
Government workers across Gaza and the West Bank have been only partly paid since Islamic Hamas militants took control of the Cabinet last March, provoking bruising international sanctions meant to force it to recognize Israel and renounce violence. The sanctions have remained largely intact even after Hamas formed a coalition government last month with the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Israel considers a more likely partner to negotiate peace.
A strike organizer, Sakr Hamdan, appealed to the government to include municipal workers in an emergency aid project funded by the European Union, which is helping to pay health and education workers.
"We are sorry to see Gaza's streets full of garbage, but since everyone has forgotten us, we have no choice," Hamdan said in a statement to the press.
The tons of garbage and burning of trash in bins to make room for more refuse only added to Gaza's already widespread environmental problems. Less than three weeks ago, a sewage reservoir in northern Gaza collapsed, killing five people in a cascade of waste and mud that swamped a village.
Gaza City Mayor Majed Abu Ramadan cautioned that an environmental catastrophe in Gaza loomed, and said his administration was making ongoing efforts to persuade municipal workers to end their strike.
"The situation is very dangerous" Abu Ramadan said.