GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian government employees crowded into banks in the West Bank and Gaza on Monday to get a month’s salary in a move to ease an economic crisis.
Some 40,000 of the Palestinian Authority’s lowest-earning workers were eligible to receive the money promised by the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
Foreign donors and Israel have boycotted dealings with Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and calls for its destruction. The boycott has meant Hamas, an Islamist group, has failed to meet payrolls for public employees since March.
“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.
The Hamas government and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are set for a showdown over a document written by Palestinians in Israeli jails that implicitly recognizes the Jewish state.
Abbas has said he will hold a referendum on the manifesto in July unless Hamas announces by Tuesday that it accepts the document. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, has rejected the proposal.
Presidential envoys planned to hold more talks with Hamas in Gaza before reporting back to Abbas later in the day in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
A senior Palestinian official said Abbas will issue a referendum decree at noon (0900 GMT) on Tuesday if Hamas does not change its position.
Such a challenge by Abbas, whose long-dominant Fatah faction was defeated by Hamas in a January election, could lead to more violence between the two groups.
Five people were killed in shootings involving Hamas and Fatah gunmen in two separate incidents in the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
Sending a signal to Abbas, a Hamas-led force he opposes, deployed on Gaza’s main streets after the latest violence.
Israeli leaders have been calling the Abbas-Hamas dispute an internal Palestinian matter.
But Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Israeli Army Radio that Abbas could become a partner for peace “if he gains the upper hand” and then carries out commitments under a U.S.-backed peace “road map.”
The road map calls for reciprocal steps, including the dismantling of Palestinian armed groups and a freeze on Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank, that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.