Palestinians strike as curbs bite

Updated 20 December 2012
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Palestinians strike as curbs bite

RAMALLAH: Palestinian government employees in the West Bank began a two-day general strike yesterday to protest against a delay in the payment of their wages because of Israeli economic sanctions.
Israel is withholding some $100 million in monthly customs revenues it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf as punishment for their bid at the UN General Assembly to gain statehood recognition.
The Palestinian Authority was experiencing a deep financial crisis even before the move, and its 153,000 public sector workers have seen their salaries repeatedly issued late this year.
Around 50,000 workers took part yesterday’s stoppage. West Bank security forces, a pillar of security and cooperation with Israel, and staff in the Gaza Strip did not participate. “This strike is against Israel’s piracy,” said Bassam Zakarneh, chief of the government employees’ union said.
“The situation is very grave, and the services to the people are much reduced by the strike,” he said. “(People) can’t even afford transportation to their workplaces.”
Government workers last received salaries for October, which were paid belatedly at the end of last month. There was no word on when November or December wages might be handed over.
Israel said the unilateral Palestinian UN initiative contravened their peace accords and has threatened to withhold tax returns for four months to cover outstanding Palestinian debts with Israeli utility firms.
Strikes and protests over austerity measures turned violent in September. Demonstrators pelted security forces with rocks and called for the ousting of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.
Yesterday’s action appeared much more subdued and there were no public protests, with Palestinians blaming Israel rather than their own government for their current economic woes.
“This puts about a million citizens in Palestine in the cycle of poverty,” said Fayyad, speaking of the Israeli sanctions. “We’re talking about doubling the rate of poverty in Palestine during a maximum period of two months from today if the situation continues as it is,” he told Reuters on Monday.
Arab countries have yet to fulfill pledges to offset the Israeli measures with cash donations.


Egyptian president El-Sisi offers sympathy after heavy rains

Updated 14 min 45 sec ago
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Egyptian president El-Sisi offers sympathy after heavy rains

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has expressed sympathy with people affected by the rare heavy rains over the past two days.
The downpour had caused flash floods on the streets, leaving parts of the capital, Cairo, and other parts of Egypt impassable.
Footage on social media showed floods, leaky ceilings and parked cars completely submerged in water.
On Thursday, El-Sisi sought to reassure people that measures would be taken to prevent this from recurring.
He said on his Twitter account: “I understand completely the suffering of some Egyptians due to the sudden and unusual rainfall.”
El-Sisi added that he confirms the state and Egyptian authorities will “intensify their efforts to prevent such incidents from recurring.”
Egypt’s Meteorological Authority Ahmed Abdel-Al says the weather is expected to improve by Friday.