Palestinians pay first full salaries in over a year

Thousands of Palestinian civil servants began receiving their first full salaries in 17 months on Wednesday after Israel released tens of millions of dollars of withheld tax receipts.

Relieved Palestinians queued en masse outside banks, checking their names on a list or drawing cash from ATM machines.

The Western-backed Palestinian government based in the West Bank has vowed, however, not to pay allies of the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip from the funds transferred by Israel.

The estimated 170 000 employees on the Palestinian Authority books have received only partial salaries since March 2006, owing to Israeli and Western economic boycotts slapped on successive Hamas-led administrations.

Officials refused to say how many Palestinians would receive pay cheques, but Hamas charges that 23 000 civil servants are being boycotted because of links to the Islamist movement, which seized power in Gaza last month.

“This is the first time I received my complete salary in more than a year,” said a grinning 51-year-old Jasser Sbai, who works in the Agriculture Ministry in the West Bank political capital of Ramallah.

“Unfortunately most of this salary will go to the electricity company and shops because I owe them too much,” he added, surrounded by more than 50 Palestinians queueing to use the ATM, with dozens more further down the road.

The salaries were paid three days after Israel transferred $118-million to the new emergency government based in Ramallah, as part of hundreds of millions in tax duties owed to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel froze monthly transfers of $50-million- to $60-million-worth of customs duties, which are levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports, in February 2006 after Hamas won a general election.

The Islamist movement, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation in Israel, rejected the decision by the new government not to pay Hamas loyalists.

“The [Salam] Fayyad government’s decision not to give thousands of employees their salaries enforces the political and geographical separation of Palestinian people,” spokesperson Sami Abu Zurhi said in Gaza City.—Sapa-AFP

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