September 1, 2006

Palestinian PM 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 set to cause chaos.

Civil servants demanding wages largely unpaid since March
plan to stop work from Saturday which could paralyze government
operations except for hospitals and border crossings.

Israel, the United States and the European Union have
imposed an aid boycott on the Hamas-led government which has
prevented it from paying full salaries to 165,000 workers.

Haniyeh said Israel wanted to divide the Palestinian

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 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 while
helping Hamas activists and other officials collect garbage
piled up on Gaza's streets after a strike by municipal workers.

Thousands of Hamas supporters rallied in the streets of
Gaza City, waving green party flags and shouting slogans in
favor of the government.

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


All government employees in the occupied West Bank will
strike, Zakarneh said. 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.

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

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. Negotiations are expected to last
weeks and Abbas has said little publicly since arriving.

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

Hamas has shown little sign of recognizing Israel and
accepting past peace accords, annoying Abbas.

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

The Islamists want to retain most key portfolios in any
unity cabinet. Abbas's aides have said that was unfeasible.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)