Source AP ©

Palestinian employees receive their first salaries

Palestinian government employees loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas stood in long lines outside banks to collect their first full salaries in 15 months.

The salary payments to workers in Gaza and the West Bank were a boost to Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas, which took control of Gaza by force last month. Abbas has since fired the Hamas-led government and said civil servants who sided with the Islamic militants will not be paid.

Since Hamas won Palestinian elections in March, 2006, the Palestinian government's 165,000 government employees, half of them members of security forces, received only sporadic and partial payments because of an international aid boycott on the militants.

Following the Gaza takeover, Western aid and Israeli tax transfers were renewed to the West Bank-based Palestinian government appointed by Abbas.

Salam Fayyad, the new prime minister in Abbas' government, said Wednesday that the salary payments were "an important sign of breaking another ring of the economic siege."

At the Arab Bank in Gaza City, Jihad Abu Shehada, a military intelligence member, was waiting to collect his salary of 2,300 Shekels ($550, EUR400). Following Abbas' orders, he hasn't reported to work since the Gaza takeover.

"They attacked us, and they shot at us, and fought us, and then they want us to work for them. Never," Abu Shehada said.

There are 55,000 government employees in the crowded Gaza Strip. In all, about 19,000 civil servants in Gaza and the West Bank will not be paid, among them 12,000 hired by Hamas in the past year, according to Abbas aides.

Abu Ramadan, a member of the Hamas militia, the Executive Force, was guarding a Gaza bank Wednesday even though it wouldn't pay him a salary. He said he trusted Hamas to pay him instead.

"We don't recognize the Ramallah government. Here we have a government in control and on the ground," he said.

Mohammed, a 23-year old member of the civil defense, said he would follow Abbas' instructions because he was the one who signed his 1,500 shekel ($400, Ђ260) check, his first full salary in more than a year..

"Abu Mazen said don't go out (to work) and he is the one that employed me, so I will not go out," he said.

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