Employees in Abbas' office striking

Banners read: We are with democracy, but we want to feed our children.

pa strike 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
pa strike 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Employees at the Palestinian president's office went on strike Thursday to demand salaries, widening the circle of discontent with the internationally isolated Hamas-led government. Hamas' sweep of parliamentary elections in January was followed by crippling international sanctions meant to pressure the militant group to renounce violence and recognize Israel. The sanctions have bankrupted the Palestinian government, making it unable for the past half year to pay salaries to 165,000 state employees. About 70 employees of President Mahmoud Abbas' office - most from the Fatah Party, a rival to Hamas - stood outside the building on Thursday, some holding banners expressing their distress. "We are with democracy, but we want to feed our children," read one banner. With hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign funds withheld, the government has just handed out small, sporadic stipends. Palestinians have been left to live off savings - and on credit. Strikes launched last weekend by teachers and civil servants have spread through the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unionists loyal to Fatah are leading the strikes, and Abbas has supported the walkouts. Hamas says the unrest is intended to pressure it to ease its anti-Israel stance and form a so-called national unity government with the rival Fatah. But the strikers said they did not seek to embarrass the government. "We are not against the people's choice," said Mohammed Aklouk, a striker, "but this people wants to live." On Wednesday, employees loyal to Fatah at the Palestinian prime minister's office also went on strike. The move embarrassed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who has called on employees to return to work.