Palestinian civil servants to launch strike

Palestinian civil servants, including teachers, announced they would launch an open-ended strike September 2, the first day of the school year, in another blow to the cash-strapped Hamas government. More than 165,000 Palestinians are employed by the Palestinian Authority. Of those, some 80,000 will go on strike, including 40,000 teachers and 25,000 health workers, Bassem Hadaideh, spokesman of the civil servants' union, said Tuesday. More than 80,000 members of the security forces will not join the strike, he said. The union has ties to the Fatah movement, Hamas' main political rival. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called the strike unacceptable, saying such acts would create more problems for the Palestinians. He called on civil servants not to heed the call for the strike. Government workers have not received their salaries since March, when the Islamic militant Hamas took power. Israel and other Western countries have slapped debilitating sanctions on the Hamas government, demanding the group recognize Israel and renounce violence, something it has so far refused to do. Because of the sanctions, Hamas has been unable to pay the workers in full. Since March, workers have on occasion received partial payments. "We haven't received our salaries in six months and nothing is on the horizon, financially or politically," Hadaideh said. "We have given the government enough time to run the Palestinian Authority and provide us with our salaries, but unfortunately it has failed." Fadel Kandil, a spokesman in Gaza for the teachers' union, said the workers are demanding back pay and a pledge that future salaries will be received on time. "If the government can't resolve this, let others come," Kandil said. Haniyeh on Tuesday announced the government will give about $100 to each of the estimated 50,000 unemployed Palestinians who used to work in Israel. The workers, who used to receive $300 monthly stipends from the government, haven't been paid since December. Palestinians had initially been patient, waiting to see how Hamas would overcome its financial problems. But in recent weeks, frustration has risen and Palestinians have taken to the streets in protest. On Sunday, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza demonstrated outside parliament, waving pita bread in the air as a sign of growing poverty. The union will hold two warning strikes on Wednesday and Thursday, Hadaideh said, adding that health workers would only deal with emergency cases throughout the walkout.