Wednesday, September 19, 2007

PA government freezes top Hamas lawmakers' wages

The government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has frozen the salaries of leading parliamentarians from Hamas, including the deposed Prime Minister, as a warning not to "conduct illegal activities," government officials said on Wednesday. The 21 parliamentarians are prominent Hamas members from the Gaza Strip, including ousted premier Ismail Haniyeh, and senior hardline Hamas member, Mahmoud Zahar. They did not receive their usual $3,000 (€2,196) monthly salary at the end of August, although legislators from Abbas' Fatah were paid.

Less-prominent figures among Hamas' 74 lawmakers _ including the group's three women delegates in the Gaza Strip _ also received their paychecks.

The wage embargo was the latest blow in the power struggle between bitter enemies Fatah and Hamas. They have been at loggerheads since heavily-armed Hamas militiamen seized the Gaza Strip in mid-June after thrashing pro-Fatah security forces.

"It was a warning to them, that they must act according to their national responsibilities, not according to political considerations which have caused them to conduct illegal activities," Cabinet minister Ashraf Ajrami, said of the Hamas wage freeze.

He said the salaries were "delayed," not cut off indefinitely.

The international community maintains an aid boycott on Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or forego violence and has been listed by the US, Europe and Israel as a terrorist organization.

As a result, Abbas' West Bank-based government, which receives money from international donors and tax revenues collected by Israel, pays most of the Gaza Strip's bills, including most civil servants' salaries. Hamas' rival Gaza administration struggles to get by.

Hamas said Fatah was using its control of the national pursestrings to stifle ideological dissent, and by singling out certain elected members of parliament was endangering the standing of the entire house.

"It is not for the President or (Prime Minister Salaam) Fayaad to intervene in the matters of parliamentarians or their immunity or their political position," said Taher Nunu, a spokesman for Haniyeh. "It's a blow to the legislative institution itself...and a dangerous precedent for the Palestinian people."

A staffer for a Hamas parliamentarian whose salary was frozen, said the move would also hit dozens of lawmakers' aides and bodyguards.

Abbas' government had previously stopped payment of the salaries of thousands of civil servants considered Hamas loyalists.

In the tit-for-tat dispute Hamas has come down on Gaza public officials close to Fatah, arresting senior hospital administrators, among others.

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