- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Several thousand police officers fired into the air and smashed windows of the Palestinian parliament building yesterday, raising fears of new unrest in Gaza after the Hamas-led government said it still cannot pay most of its workers.

The failure to pay salaries has heightened tensions between Hamas and security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ rival Fatah movement. The two sides have been holding talks to resolve their differences under a Tuesday deadline but appeared to be making little progress.

The government has been unable to pay workers’ salaries since taking office in March because of crushing international sanctions against Hamas, viewed by the United States, European Union and Israel as a terrorist organization.

Later yesterday, four gunmen were wounded in a clash of Hamas and Fatah factions in a village east of the Gaza town of Khan Younis, Reuters news agency reported citing witnesses and a security source. A security source said three security officers loyal to Fatah were moderately wounded in the exchange of fire.

Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said Wednesday that the government has raised enough money to pay only 40,000 low-wage workers, leaving more than 100,000 salaried workers, including many security officers, unpaid for a third straight month. Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had promised to pay everyone.

About 3,000 police officers joined yesterday’s demonstration outside the parliament building in Gaza.

Banners saying “90 days without salaries is more than enough” were posted on the parliament building. A group of recruits went on a brief rampage, smashing six windows and climbing onto the roof before security forces pushed them away.

The government ran out of cash after Western donors cut off aid and Israel suspended monthly tax transfers to the Palestinians. Washington, the European Union and Israel have demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Mr. Abbas, of Fatah, has tried to force Hamas to become more moderate, setting the Tuesday deadline for results from talks or he will call a referendum on a proposal that implicitly recognizes Israel.

Hamas has rejected the ultimatum, and leaders are torn about whether to accept the proposal.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmud al-Zahar, who is in Beijing for a China-Arab forum, met with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, and said the visit — the first by a member of the new Hamas government — has been successful.

“On a bilateral relationship, yes, it was successful,” Mr. Zahar told Agence France-Presse. “I met the minister of foreign affairs … [and] we discussed everything, we addressed our political attitudes.”

Mr. Zahar’s trip to Beijing is the second time a Hamas government official had visited a United Nations Security Council member nation since winning the Palestinian elections in January. A Hamas delegation visited Russia in March.

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