Hamas says it can't pay salaries

Announcement raises possibility of new unrest in impoverished PA areas.

gaza aid 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
gaza aid 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Hamas-led Palestinian government does not have enough money to pay tens of thousands of employees, the finance minister said Wednesday, pulling back from a pledge to begin paying long-overdue salaries to all workers in the coming days. The announcement raised the possibility of new unrest in the impoverished Palestinian areas. In a surprise announcement, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday the government planned to begin paying the workers. On Wednesday, however, Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said the government has raised enough money in tax revenues to pay just 40,000 workers. He said only the lowest wage earners, those who earn up to 1,500 shekels ($333, or €260) a month, would receive a one month salary. People earning more than that will have to wait, he said. The salary payment promises to bring a small measure of relief to the impoverished Palestinian territories. But the exclusion of nearly three-quarters of the work force threatened to breed more discontent. "When we have enough money for the rest, we will pay. We don't know when," Abdel Razek said. Bassam Zakarna, head of the Palestinian Authority employees' union, criticized the government for paying only some of the salaries. "The government is not solving the problem, or even part of the problem. On the contrary, it is creating a new problem," he said. Most of the workers eligible to be paid are members of the security forces, which are dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas' rival Fatah movement. The decision to pay the forces may be a way for Hamas to reduce tension or buy the loyalty of the armed men. Reflecting the desperate situation, a senior Hamas official tried to smuggle about $800,000 (€620,000) into Gaza recently, but the money was confiscated at the Egyptian border. Abdel Razek said the money had been turned over to his ministry. He said that cash, together with donations and tax collections, will cover the salary payments.