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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Palestinians feel the pinch
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza

Palestinians shopping at a market in Rafah camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
The Western aid cut could worsen Palestinian misery

Like all of Gaza's tens-of-thousands of government employees, Hassan Sallah is worried about money. Nobody can tell him when his next pay cheque will arrive.

The new Hamas government has walked into a major financial crisis.

Its refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel has led to the halting of large amounts of European and American economic support. And Israel itself has withheld payments of tens of millions of dollars that it owes the Palestinians.

Mr Sallah works as a nurse in the accident and emergency department of the Kamal Adwan hospital, in northern Gaza. But during a cigarette break, he reflected on what Hamas's troubles meant for him.

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He struggles to support seven children on about $450 a month.

Four of the boys are grown up, but there is no steady work for them in Gaza's wrecked economy. Mr Sallah still helps them when he can - but it is not easy.

Like many, many people in Gaza, when his pay runs out he gets by on credit from shops, the odd loan from a friend or relative - and he owes many thousands of shekels in unpaid water and electricity bills.

'Empty pockets'

And now the government is so short of cash that the health ministry says it cannot pay him this month's salary yet.

But he desperately hopes that the neighbours will come to Hamas's aid and make up for the missing Western budget support.

"We are depending on the Arab and Islamic countries," he says. "They are our brothers and they are obliged to help according to Islam."

"I've got empty pockets," says Mr Sallah. "In the end we will rely on God."

An elderly Palestinian man takes part in a rally in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on 17 April 2006 against the European Union and US's decision to suspend aid.
Palestinians want the West to give their government a chance

Gulf countries have promised some $80m, and Iran has pledged to give $50m. But it is not clear how much of this cash will actually materialise, and when it will come.

And the longer term future is very uncertain. Hamas says that it will need $115m every month to pay wages alone.

At the interior ministry there was a mood of defiance in the face of the Western pressure.

Workers were angry that Europe and the Americans were siding with Israel, rather than the Palestinian victims of Israel's occupation.

A young woman called Samah Ahmad said there should be no buckling to foreign demands.

"We will never say, ' That's it. We will now be under Israeli or American or European orders'. No. We will struggle to be as we are - Palestinian."

Strategy needed

It was put to her that Yasser Arafat - on behalf of the Palestinian people - had accepted Israel's right to exist, and that Europe's argument was that it could not support a Palestinian government that reneged on that key understanding.

But Ms Ahmad said the election of Hamas was an expression of Palestinian democratic will, and that the West had to respect that.

And another health ministry employee, Talal Hasoona, who has eight children and lives in a Gaza City refugee camp, said that he, too, was standing by the new government. He said that it should be given a chance.

The government cannot perform on a month-to-month basis. It has to have a long term strategy
Yassir Abu Mayiliq
Palestinian man
Mr Hasoona said he worried about where the money would come from, but that life was always tough in Gaza. And he pointed out that even under the previous government run by the Fatah party, salaries were regularly paid weeks late.

But a translator at the information ministry, Yassir Abu Mayiliq was in a darker mood.

He said that some of his colleagues had talked of striking if there was no pay or no promise of it.

And he was unimpressed with the promises of support from the Arab world.

"Talk is cheap," he said. "We want to see facts. And if they can give this month who can guarantee that they will give for next month.

"The government cannot perform on a month-to-month basis. It has to have a long-term strategy."

Mr Abu Mayiliq said he could even imagine his ministry eventually grinding to a halt:

"If there is no money there will be no salaries, then there will be no paper, no stationery - no maintenance for the electronics. No utilities being paid. This would paralyse the government's work."




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