[1/4]Palestinians employees work at Gaza government media office, in Gaza City, July 16, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
GAZA, July 16 (Reuters) – The Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers have been unable to pay salaries for 50,000 public sector workers, with officials in part blaming a delay in a monthly payroll grant from Qatar, a crucial aid donor to the impoverished Palestinian enclave.
The salary crisis has sparked an unusual amount of criticism on social media in Gaza, including by some of Hamas’ own employees. A drop in tax revenue and a jump in spending has made the situation even more difficult.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents live in poverty, and the economy is dependent on foreign aid. Qatar has paid hundreds of millions of dollars since 2014 for construction projects. It currently pays $30 million per month in stipends for families, fuel for electricity, and to help pay public sector wages.
Hamas officials say no salary aid has been received since just over half of a $5-million grant to support the May payroll. The reason for the delay was not clear.
In Doha, Qatar’s International Media Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The government is going through a stifling and escalating financial crisis, with a continuous increase in the deficit month after month, which led to the delay of salaries this month,” Awni Al-Basha, the Hamas-appointed deputy minister, told Hamas Aqsa radio.
“We are making significant efforts to pay the salaries, and we hope to do so at the end of this week,” he said.
Monthly payroll costs Hamas 125 million shekels ($34.5 million) per month, said Basha.
On Sunday, Salama Marouf, chairman of the Hamas government media office, said there has also been an increase in spending, particularly for the ministry of health and repayment of bank debts. He called on Qatar to increase the salary grant to $7 million.
Gaza has been under an Israel-Egyptian blockade since 2007 when Hamas, which opposes peace with Israel, took control. Public sector employees have not received full salaries since 2013.
“With 60% (of salaries) we used to meet the basics of our needs at home. What happens when the salary is completely cut off?” said Mahmoud Al-Farra, an employee at the Hamas government media office. “This a big disappointment.”
Some took to social media, questioning whether the crisis was authentic.
“Where are the taxes they collect and the grants that enter Gaza go?” one resident posted on Facebook.
Additional reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha Reporting and writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise
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A senior correspondent with nearly 25 years’ experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace accord between the two sides.