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The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip will begin paying thousands of civil servants cut from the payroll of Fatah, officials said, further entrenching the divisions between the two PA-controlled territories.
Hamas' takeover of Gaza, and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' subsequent decision to dismiss the Hamas government, effectively set up two Palestinian administrations. Abbas has installed a Cabinet headed by US-backed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that has control of the West Bank.
Hamas' payment of the salaries would further cement its rule over impoverished Gaza, where unemployment is about 40 percent and most of the 1.4 million people receive foreign food handouts. The money will go to thousands of members of Hamas' Executive Force, a Hamas militia that polices Gaza, and those civil servants who refused an order from Fayyad not to cooperate with the Islamic group.
During a year of Hamas rule, following the group's election victory in January 2006, civil servants were only paid sporadically because of an international aid boycott, prompting a further downturn in the battered Palestinian economy.
Hamas has relied largely on aid from sympathetic governments, such as Iran, and on donations sent to its charities in Gaza.
In all, Abbas' Palestinian Authority employs about 165,000 people, half of them members of the Fatah-allied security forces. The salaries of civil servants provide for about one-third of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Ala al-Batta, head of a Hamas-run civil servants' union in Gaza, told a local news radio Saturday that more than 10,000 government workers will receive their salaries from Hamas.
Hamas officials said payments will begin Sunday, and that it had enough money to pay salaries in the near future. However, it's unclear how long it could keep up payments since it has difficulties bringing money into Gaza.
In the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Fatah-allied security broke up the funeral Saturday for a Hamas supporter, witnesses said. The Hamas loyalist was critically wounded Tuesday during a brawl between Hamas loyalists and Palestinian security backed by Fatah gunmen at An Najah University in Nablus. He died on Friday.
The funeral procession was surrounded by security forces who at some point shot in the air, scattering the crowd, witnesses said. Mourners fled with the body, eventually reaching the man's home village where he was buried.
A Palestinian security official said that the forces had followed the procession to track Hamas members.