GAZA (Reuters) – Dozens of gunmen stormed into Palestine Television on Monday in a show of strength against President Mahmoud Abbas in the final hours before his deadline to Hamas to accept a manifesto implicitly recognizing Israel.
Employees at a broadcasting facility in the Gazan town of Khan Younis said gunmen, whom they identified as local Hamas members, fired into equipment, smashed computers and shouted that Abbas-controlled Palestine TV favored his Fatah faction.
Hamas, an Islamic militant group that came to power after defeating Fatah in a January election, denied responsibility. The gunmen eventually left the television office after beating up two employees, witnesses said.
“The whole place is ruined,” one employee told Reuters by telephone.
Palestine TV announced it would stop broadcasting for 30 minutes later in the day to protest against the assault.
Abbas has given Hamas until noon (0900 GMT) on Tuesday to embrace the manifesto, which was penned by Palestinians in Israeli jails. He has threatened to call a referendum for July if Hamas does not meet the deadline.
Hamas seeks to destroy the Jewish state and has rejected calls by Abbas and Western powers to soften its stance. The manifesto includes a clause calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“The document has to be accepted as it is. If we begin to change it, we will never reach a result,” Abbas told a news conference.
With shootouts between Hamas and Fatah now frequent occurrences, many Palestinians fear further violence if Abbas schedules a referendum, a move a Hamas spokesman said would be tantamount to a coup against the elected government.
Earlier in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian Authority employees crowded into banks to get a month’s salary in a move by the government to ease an economic crisis and bolster its public support.
After going unpaid since March, some 40,000 of the Palestinian Authority’s lowest-earning workers were eligible to receive a month’s salary promised by the government.
Foreign donors and Israel have boycotted dealings with the Hamas-led administration, leaving 165,000 government employees without wages and facing hard times.
“I will have to pay some of my debts and the rest will go toward buying milk and basic food items. It’s one good step but we need our full salaries,” said Ala al-Maswabi, a paramilitary policeman, at the Cairo-Amman Bank in Gaza.
All but one of about 20 banks in the West Bank and Gaza said they would use their own funds for the $13 million payout. They fear international sanctions if they deal with Hamas, viewed by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Hamas has promised advances to the rest of the government’s 165,000 employees, but has set no date for payments.
A new aid mechanism being crafted by the European Union on behalf of the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the EU, the United States, the United Nations and Russia — was expected to provide limited relief.
After meeting with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the goal was to create a system that could funnel humanitarian aid to the Palestinians from many international donors.
Aides said the mechanism will include funds to pay “allowances” to some workers. But diplomats said the scope would be limited initially to those in the health sector.