September 1, 2006

Haniyeh urges govt workers not to strike

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh
of Hamas urged government workers on Friday to scrap plans for
an open-ended strike, saying the resulting chaos would only
benefit Israel.

Civil servants demanding wages largely unpaid since March
plan to stop work from Saturday, threatening to paralyze
government bodies except for hospitals and border crossings.

Most government workers are affiliated to the once dominant
Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been locked
in a power struggle with Hamas ever since the Islamists won a
surprise victory in parliamentary elections in January.

"I (especially) urge teachers and students to go to their
schools to begin the new school year," Haniyeh said.

"We are living in difficult conditions and must be united,"
Haniyeh added while joining Hamas activists and other officials
in collecting garbage piled up on the streets of Gaza City
after recent strikes by municipal workers.

Israel, the United States and the European Union have
imposed an aid boycott on the Hamas-led government. Israel
wanted to divide the Palestinian people, Haniyeh said.

Western powers have demanded Hamas, whose charters calls
for the destruction of Israel, to recognize the Jewish state
and renounce violence for aid to be restored.

The boycott has prevented the cash-strapped government from
paying full salaries to 165,000 workers since March.

"Slogans and rhetoric won't solve the crisis," said Bassam
Zakarneh, head of the workers' union organizing the strike.

Zakarneh said while all government employees in the
occupied West Bank would strike, those in Gaza would show up at
their offices but not carry out their duties.

He said this was because of the "difficult living
conditions" in Gaza, which is also a Hamas stronghold. The
majority of government employees are in the West Bank.


Abbas is in Gaza for talks with Haniyeh on forming a unity
government that some Palestinian leaders hope could lead to an
easing of foreign sanctions. The negotiations are expected to
drag on for weeks.

"We are still at the beginning," said Haniyeh.

One Abbas aide has said the president was determined to
achieve a breakthrough on a unity government -- either by
winning over Hamas, or acting against it should talks fail.

Abbas could, in theory, fire Haniyeh, though some analysts
consider this unlikely given Hamas's popularity and Palestinian
fears such a move would renew internal political violence.

Hamas has shown little sign it of caving in to
international demands to recognize Israel and accept interim
peace agreements, a major source of friction with Abbas.

The Islamists also want to retain key portfolios in any
unity cabinet, including the prime minister's post. Abbas's
aides have said that was unfeasible.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)