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Thread: Gaza on brink of implosion as aid cut-off starts to bite

  1. #1
    Partridge Guest

    Gaza on brink of implosion as aid cut-off starts to bite

    Gaza on brink of implosion as aid cut-off starts to bite
    The Observer

    The end of Western funding and Israel's crossing closure sharpen Palestinian divisions, reports Conal Urquhart in Gaza City

    An empty watchtower overlooks a deserted road lined with rusting vehicle parts. The only traffic is a pregnant bitch and a mule and cart. This is Gaza's economic lifeline, the Karni crossing into Israel, which is supposed to handle 1,300 containers of merchandise and food per day in order to sustain 1.3 million people.But nothing is entering or leaving Gaza, and now the funds to purchase what is available there are also drying up, bringing the dire situation of its people to a new and febrile crisis.

    Karni is officially closed because the Israeli army has declared a security alert for the Jewish Passover holiday. Yet it has barely been open this year. The effect is a paralysis of Gaza's commerce and severe shortages of basic foods. Not that the locals are in a position to buy what food there is. There is little money because the European Union, Canada and the United States have stopped funding the aid-dependent Palestinian Authority, which can no longer pay its staff's wages.

    The result is that families are existing on tiny amounts of money and businesses are facing collapse. Palestinian areas in the West Bank face similar difficulties, but the situation in Gaza is much more severe. John Ging, the Gaza director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that, while he did not expect people to starve, 'the clock is ticking towards a crisis'.

    To add further misery, in retaliation for militants firing home-made Qassam rockets at Israel, the Israel Defence Force has bombarded the north of Gaza with thousands of artillery shells. Gazans fear external pressures will lead to domestic unrest in which the situation is used as a weapon against Hamas by supporters of Fatah who have not accepted January's electoral defeat.

    Confronted with the crisis facing Palestinian society, Russia broke ranks with fellow mediators the EU and Washington yesterday by promising emergency aid to save the authority from complete bankruptcy.

    It came as the first anti-government protests took place in Khan Yunis in Gaza, when about 50 policemen, most of them Fatah supporters, blocked Gaza's main artery to demand the government pay their salaries or step aside. Yesterday dozens more stormed a government building and blocked roads.

    At the root of Gaza's problems is Israel's determination to force Hamas to recognise the state of Israel and renounce violence. Israel has been joined in its efforts by Britain, the EU and the US. Hamas militants have been on a ceasefire for 16 months but they are determined to withhold recognition of Israel at least until it withdraws from occupied Palestinian territory.

    Israel's policy was summed up by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, earlier this year. 'The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,' he said. The hunger pangs are supposed to encourage the Palestinians to force Hamas to change its attitude towards Israel or force Hamas out of government.

    But it is not certain that the Palestinian reality will conform to the Israeli theory. Even if the wage bill is finally paid - with Russia's help - analysts believe it will only provide a short respite until the same problem arises next month.

    Mohammed Salah, 38, a barber in the Jabalia refugee camp said that the economic crisis was 'a conspiracy from inside and outside against Hamas. Things are very low at the moment, but if we give up thieves will take over the government,' he said. He estimated that his takings had fallen by 50 per cent. 'I don't turn anyone away. They pay what they can when they can,' he said.

    And while many supporters of Fatah are enjoying the discomfort of Hamas, they are not enjoying the problems that accompany it. Adib Yusef, 44, and his brother, Ahab, 37, are Fatah supporters who are responsible for a joint household of 14 - four adults and 10 children. Recently Ahab and his wife and three children moved in with his brother to share the rent and bills of £112 per month.

    Adid is unemployed, but does odd jobs when he can, and Ahab is a carpenter with the Ministry of Public Works, earning £218 per month. Adib's eldest son is a policeman and is paid £192, which all goes to the family. The wages for February were paid two weeks late in March and there is no indication as to when the March wages will be paid.

    Adib says the family normally exists on £7.50 per day, but at the moment they are making do on £1.25. All their savings and assets have been used up. Ahab owes £3,750 to a bank for his wedding.

    Adib, who is smoking a cigarette he has just bought for six pence, says that the family are existing on handouts from acquaintances. 'We eat potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables that we can buy cheaply. The problem is not so much what is happening now, but that there is no hope on the horizon,' he said.

    Ahab is quick to blame Hamas for the current predicament. 'Hamas used to give out charity coupons, but now they have to give out wages and they find out it is not so easy,' he said. Adib, like many non-Hamas supporters, also blames the West. 'They ask for democracy and then they do not like the result,' he said.

    Even before the authority's wages crisis, the economy was in dire straits because of the Israeli closure of Gaza. More than 3,000 containers of goods have been stuck at the Karni crossing and the port of Ashdod in Israel for months. The majority of Gaza's farm produce did not reach its markets and had to be sold at a fraction of its value locally.

    For those families who do not have a wage to rely on, the UN relief agency is their life support system. The agency, which was set up in 1948 to cater for the needs of Palestinian refugees, is responsible for 962,000 registered refugees in Gaza and 735,000 of them receive food aid. 'We are living with the consequences of an unprecedented period of closure. We have contingency plans for this event but they have been exhausted,' he said.

    'We have run out of reserves, there is a pressure pot of of frustration compounded by the intensity of shelling, and in the midst of all this we have had avian flu and not a shekel has been offered in compensation to the farmers who have lost their livestock,' he said

    Raji Serani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said that the ultimate effect could be to silence moderate voices. 'I have no idea where this will end, but I fear it will be bleak and black,' he said.

  2. #2
    Partridge Guest
    Gaza police stage violent protest

    Police in Gaza have held a violent protest at the new Hamas government's failure to pay their wages. Up to 50 masked officers blocked roads and stormed a government office, firing their weapons in the air from the roof.

    They said they were suffering severe financial problems and demanded their wages, now two weeks late.

    The new administration is facing a financial crisis as foreign donors cut off aid after Hamas refused to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

    Russian pledge

    "We warn this is only a first step," Abu Mohammed, a leader of the protesters in the central town of Khan Younis, the focus of the demonstration, told news agency Reuters. Palestinian Finance Minister Omar Abdel-Razek of Hamas blamed the cash crisis on the decision to cut international aid.

    "They all know that the account is empty ... and we don't have enough to pay salaries," he told al-Jazeera television station.

    Hamas claims it inherited an administration with more than $1.3bn (£740m) in government debt.

    The US and EU have cut off aid after Hamas took power on 30 March over the militant group's political stance.

    The US Treasury has also banned American citizens from doing business with the Hamas-led authority.

    Meanwhile, Iran has urged the Muslim world to help fund the cash-strapped authority.

    Russia has promised to provide emergency financial aid - although it was not immediately clear how much.

    Many of the protesters belonged to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, Hamas's political rival, say reports.

    Our correspondent in Gaza says Hamas may suspect the police protest also had a political edge.

  3. #3
    Partridge Guest
    Iran pledges $50m Palestinian aid

    Iran will donate $50m (£28m) to help fund the Palestinian Authority, after the withdrawal of aid from the West, the Iranian government has announced. The US and EU cut funding after Hamas - which they consider a terrorist group - won Palestinian elections in January.

    Iran's pledge followed a visit from top Hamas official Khaled Meshaal, after the group appealed to Muslim nations to help make up the shortfall.

    On Saturday Russia said it would also grant financial aid.

    Mr Meshaal, at a fundraising event in the Iranian capital, Tehran, said the Palestinian administration was $1.7bn in debt.

    He said a further $170m a month was needed to run the administration, out of which $115m went to paying salaries.

    The EU gives about 500m euros ($600m) a year to the Palestinian Authority, but said last week that aid would be suspended.

    Hamas has refused EU demands to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

    The US Treasury this week further tightened the screws on Palestinian cash by banning American nationals from doing business with the Hamas-led authority.

    'Work with Hamas'

    Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was determined to help the Palestinians.

    "I am honoured to announce that Iran has donated $50m to help the Palestinian nation," he said in a televised speech.

    "We warn that if the aid is cut and if this continues in the near future, this land will witness a humanitarian disaster," he added.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that withholding aid to the Palestinians was a mistake.

    "Hamas should... recognise Israel and sit down at the negotiating table. But for that it's necessary to work with them," he said.

  4. #4
    Partridge Guest
    US business ban on Hamas-led PA

    The United States has banned its nationals from doing business with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, a Treasury spokesperson says. The Treasury ruled this week that the militant Islamist group has a vested interest in the transactions of the Palestinian Authority.

    That decision made the PA automatically subject to existing US bans on doing business with "terrorist entities".

    The US and EU cut off aid to the PA after Hamas took power on 30 March.

    Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said on Friday the cut in aid would not weaken the Palestinian people's resolve.

    "We will eat salt, but we will not bow our heads for anybody other than God, because we are faithful to the rights of our people and our nation. We will not betray it," he said.

    Mr Haniya was addressing worshippers in Gaza before the start of a series of rallies aimed at demonstrating support for the Hamas-led administration.

    Thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza rallied in support of their new government.


    The US and EU consider Hamas a terrorist group.

    "Hamas is a designated terrorist group" under three different sets of regulations, Molly Millerwise of the US Treasury Department said.

    "As a result, US persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the PA unless authorised by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control."

    The US is making exceptions for government entities under the direct control of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate whose Fatah movement is a rival of Hamas.

    The ban also does not forbid Americans from doing business with non-governmental organisations or private sector banks, among other exceptions.

    Bombing threat

    Also on Friday, another Hamas leader warned that if the party's government was broken by its enemies, Hamas would go back on the offensive.

    Younes al-Aftal, a Hamas MP, said there would be Hamas suicide bombings again in the heart of Israel.

    This is the first time a prominent Hamas leader has talked in these terms since the Hamas-led Palestinian cabinet was sworn in two weeks ago.

    Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since the start of the second intifada in 2000.

    It is currently maintaining a ceasefire, but remains committed to the destruction of Israel.

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