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Palestinian Cops Storm Govt Offices For Back Pay

Thugs will be thugs. But don't worry. They're the police. And it's only a "protest."

From the DNC's Associated Press:

Masked Palestinian Police Demand Payment

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip – Palestinian police sealed off a main road and briefly stormed a government building in this central Gaza town of Khan Younis on Saturday, angered by the Hamas-led government's failure to pay them.

The gunmen surrounded the building where town councilors have their offices, taking positions on the roof and on balconies and firing in the air. They left peacefully after holding talks with local government officials.

The protest was the first sign of serious discontent with the new government since it took office two weeks ago, and it reflected a growing sense of desperation in the streets of Gaza as the already impoverished Palestinians begin to feel the economic repercussions of Hamas' rise.

Western nations have cut off aid to the cash-starved Palestinian Authority, demanding Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel also halted the monthly transfer of about $55 million in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

Stepping up the pressure, the U.S. government on Friday said it has barred Americans from most business dealings with the Palestinian government.

Israeli officials say they hope the financial pressure forces Hamas — which is listed as a terror group by the United States and European Union — to moderate or stirs enough popular discontent to remove the government.

The Palestinian Authority is the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza, sustaining about one-third of the population.

With salaries for the government's 140,000 employees two weeks overdue, about 50 masked policemen protested Saturday by shutting Khan Younis' main road, which links the central Gaza town with the rest of the Gaza Strip.

The men, who identified themselves as security officers, were not in uniform and had covered their faces with scarves and shirts.

Sporadically firing rifles in the air, the gunmen paralyzed Khan Younis, forcing workers traveling from northern Gaza to get out of their cars and walk more than half a mile to get into town. Those heading to the southern town of Rafah had to take back roads.

Stores throughout the town were closed and residents gathered to watch the demonstration. Dozens of schoolchildren left their school after the angry gunmen fired outside their building.

During the protest, several of the security officials stormed the local government building, which also houses offices of the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce.

"We want salaries. We want the government to live up to its responsibilities," said a leader of the protest who gave his name only as Abu Hassan. "If they don't have the ability to secure our salaries and to guarantee good living conditions for the people, they either have to step aside or to ask the people what the next step must be. They cannot act alone."

Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said he was surprised at the violent outburst, since the payment of salaries was routinely delayed under the previous government, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' more moderate Fatah Party.

"I call on everyone to be patient and to show steadfastness in confronting the siege … practiced against our people," he told Palestinian Radio. "Problems cannot be solved in this way and we cannot bring money by storming buildings and offices."

The protest came a day after Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told thousands of supporters that his government would not cave into financial pressure.

"Attempts to destroy this government and put obstacles before it and disrupt it will only be met with more steadfastness, resolve and solidarity," Haniyeh told a rally Friday.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar also began a fundraising tour of Arab nations Friday seeking new aid, but Arab states have been reluctant to back up their vocal support for the Palestinians with cash.

The demonstration Saturday underscored that the Palestinians, whose economy was crushed by five years of fighting with Israel, have little tolerance for further economic hardship in the wake of Hamas' victory in parliamentary elections.

"We respect the result of the election, and we respect the people and the government, but this doesn't mean we have to starve to death," Abu Hassan said. "The government is talking about alternatives to secure money for salaries, but until now they have showed us nothing."

I guess by Palestinian standards this was a peaceful demonstration.

This article was posted by Steve on Saturday, April 15th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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