PA teachers shut down schools

Strike is first since Hamas assumed power; Abbas aide hopeful for unity gov't.

Pal school strike 88 AP (photo credit: )
Pal school strike 88 AP
(photo credit: )
The money stolen by senior Palestinian Authority officials over the past decade is enough to pay the salaries of all PA civil servants for at least six months, the Hamas-controlled government said on Saturday. The announcement came in response to a general strike that began in the Palestinian public sector on Saturday which paralyzed most government institutions and schools. Meanwhile, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas said he expected Hamas and Fatah to reach an agreement on the formation of a national-unity government within 10 days. Nabil Abu Rudaineh told reporters in Gaza City that Abbas and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who held their fifth meeting in four days, had agreed in principle on the political guidelines of the new government, but refused to elaborate. Hamas condemned the government employees' strike as "part of a conspiracy to bring down the Hamas-led government." The strike, the first of its kind since Hamas came to power last March, was initiated by several workers' unions controlled by Abbas's Fatah party. Fatah leaders and spokesmen used the opportunity to launch scathing attacks on the Hamas-controlled government, saying it was responsible for the fact that the international community was no longer providing financial aid to the Palestinians. "The government is fully responsible for the international sanctions because of its refusal to honor the commitments of the PLO and United Nations resolutions," said Jamal Nazzal, a prominent Fatah operative in the West Bank. "The government with its political program, which contradicts the PLO agenda, has destroyed our relations with the world." Nazzal said the solution to the current crisis was in the hands of Hamas. "All they have to do is accept the two-state solution, recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and acknowledge all United Nations resolutions regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict," he added. The Fatah leader also condemned attempts by the Hamas government to break the general strike by issuing threats against the workers and recruiting volunteers to replace the government in institutions and schools. Fatah officials described the strike as a "huge success" and said over 90 percent of the schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained closed on the first day of the academic year. They said gunmen belonging to the PA Ministry of Interior raided a number of schools in the Gaza Strip in the morning and tried to force teachers to report to their classes, but to no avail. They claimed that the men also beat the headmaster of the Al-Ghafari School in Gaza City after he ignored their warnings. Hamas leaders, for their part, claimed that Fatah gunmen and PA security forces in the West Bank prevented a large number of schoolchildren from entering their classrooms and confiscated the door keys to some of the schools, especially in Nablus, Tulkarm and Jenin. "This is an illegal strike that won't help lift the sanctions imposed on our people," said Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government. "This move won't accelerate the payment of the salaries and will only increase the suffering of our people." Hamad called on Israel to release frozen tax revenues belonging to the PA and to allow his government to bring financial aid from the international community. He also urged the Arab and Islamic countries to reject attempts by Israel and the US to blackmail the Palestinians by preventing the money from reaching the Palestinians. Hamad appealed to Abbas to launch a thorough investigation to determine the fate of $700m. that are believed to have been stolen by top PA officials over the past 10 years. "We hope Abbas will order the Palestinian attorney-general to complete legal procedures to regain the embezzled money," he said. "This money is enough to pay the salaries of all the civil servants for six months." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri claimed that the strike was a total failure, adding that about 85% of the schools in the Gaza Strip did not heed the call. "It's obvious that this is a politically-motivated strike that is aimed at undermining and blackmailing the government before the formation of a national-unity coalition," he charged. "The unions that are behind the strike belong to Fatah and they don't care about the employees." The latest turmoil in the PA coincides with Abbas's increased efforts to persuade Hamas to agree to the formation of a national-unity government. While Abbas's top aides voiced optimism about the prospects of reaching an agreement, Hamas officials warned that it was premature to talk about a breakthrough. "The discussions over the establishment of a national-unity government are still at the beginning of the road," said Hamas legislator Khalil al-Hayeh. "I have no reason to believe that such a government would be established within 10 days."