Days after spiriting suitcases full of cash into the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-led Palestinian government distributed emergency payments of $300 (â‚¬235) on Monday to thousands of desperate civil servants who haven't received salaries in nearly four months.
But in a sign of the government's continuing troubles, the money was distributed through special postal accounts after local banks, fearful of violating international anti-terror laws, refused to handle the cash.
Last week, Hamas officials returned from tours of Islamic nations declaring $22 million (â‚¬18 million) stuffed in their suitcases. The money, which came from private donations and charities, was immediately turned over to the government to pay worker salaries, officials said.
Hundreds of civil servants lined up at Gaza post offices Monday for payouts. Living without paychecks for so long, government workers have sold valuables and run up large debts to scrape by.
"I'm worried because I don't know where to begin. The grocery wants money. The bakery wants money, and I also need to pay my rent," said Samir Hassanya, a 42-year-old health worker. "I consider this money as a pain killer, but it's not going to stop our suffering for more than one or two days."
The Finance Ministry said 91,000 workers earning 1,500 to 2,500 shekels a month ($333 to $555, or â‚¬265 to â‚¬444) were paid less than one month's salary on Monday, or $300 (â‚¬235). Earlier this month, the government paid 40,000 workers who earn below 1,500 shekels ($333, â‚¬265) a month.
Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said Monday's payments came from the suitcases, and that post offices received a list of eligible workers.
"We are paying through the post office because we have some problems with the banks because of the direct or indirect threats by the US and Israel," Abdel Razek said.
While Hamas' unorthodox fund-raising techniques have brought some relief, they are unlikely to end the cash crisis. The government, which collects monthly revenues of about $30 million (â‚¬24 million) still owes more than $300 million (â‚¬237 million) in overdue salaries, and has an overall debt load of $2.6 billion, Abdel Razek said.
Hundreds of government workers gathered peacefully Monday outside parliament buildings in the West Bank town of Ramallah and in Gaza City to demand their salaries.
Concerned about the deteriorating situation, international Mideast peacemakers, including the US and EU, approved a plan over the weekend to transfer $125 million (â‚¬100 million) in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The money will bypass the Hamas government, and delivery is expected to begin next month.