Palestinian Premier Hamdallah is to visit Gaza Strip


PALESTINIAN Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said on Thursday that no mechanisms had been put in place to ensure the implementation of the reconciliation agreement signed by Hamas, Fatah, and other parties in April.

All political parties who signed the agreement are fully responsible for finding solutions to the currently unresolved problems, he added, urging factions to hold an emergency meeting to work out solutions.

The remarks are one of the most frank admissions on the part of Palestinian political leaders that many of the stumbling blocks the national unity government has faced in the last five months are a direct result of the lack of foresight on their own part.

Hamdallah’s remarks came as he addressed a symposium in Gaza City via videoconference that was organised by the Gaza-based Press House Foundation.

Hamdallah said that measures are now being taken to address the many issues the consensus government is facing.

He said that a legal committee had been established to study one of the most complicated unresolved issues, which is the unpaid wages of around 40,000 Gaza civil servants who used to receive their monthly wages from the former Hamas government but who have since been replaced.

Donor countries have threatened to cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority if the national consensus government paid salaries to Gaza employees who had been hired by Hamas, Hamdallah added, noting how foreign intervention was complicating the task of solidifying national unity.

He added that an agreement had been reached to postpone discussions about security in the Gaza Strip for four months, after which a follow-up committee would be formed to study and suggest solutions for unresolved security-related issues, including how to reunify the currently separate PA and Hamas security forces.

With regard to the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, Hamdallah said that the government has been spending 2 million Shekels ($600,000) a day to buy diesel needed to run the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant, which was bombed by Israel and is running under-capacity.

In addition, the Hamdallah government had managed to sign an agreement with the government of Turkey to get a floating electric power station to the Gaza coast with the capacity to generate 105 Megawatts.

However, he said that Israel had opposed the idea and there have been efforts at the international level to convince Israel to allow the power ship to anchor off the Ashdod coast and supply the Gaza Strip with electricity.

Israel severely limits Gaza’s imports of fuel, leading to recurring shortages and running blackouts of up to 18 hours a day even in peace time.

Regarding the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, devastated after this summer’s Israeli assault that left more than 110,000 homeless, Hamdallah said that the Palestinian Authority agreed with Israel to allow entry of construction material into the Gaza Strip under the supervision of the United Nations beginning in October.

He said that the PA will determine how much construction material will be needed and UN committees will monitor the entry of material to make sure those materials will not be used for other purposes. Private sector companies will import the construction material through Israel.

Israel has maintained a severe siege on the Gaza Strip since 2006, preventing almost all imports, exports, and movement of people.

It has previously balked at opening up the borders to allow reconstruction after the massive devastation Gaza experienced at the hands of Israeli bombs over the summer.

Hamdallah also said that the government of Saudi Arabia had decided to pay half a billion dollars to be used in rebuilding the war-torn Gaza Strip and helping displaced families, a top priority for the unity government.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and the United Nations Development Programme have already started to repair partially damaged houses in Gaza, according to Hamdallah.

In addition, the national consensus government will pay rent fees for six months on behalf of Gaza families whose houses have been destroyed. Hamdallah ended his speech by confirming that he plans to visit the Gaza Strip after he returns from the United States. He noted that Israel had denied him entry to Gaza during the war.

Two Palestinians were killed and three were injured last Friday when an unexploded Israeli bomb blew up in the al-Shujaiyya neighbourhood of eastern Gaza City. A huge explosion was heard in the al-Shujaiyya area and ambulances rushed to the area immediately.

Spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza Ashraf al-Qidra said that two Palestinians were killed in the explosion. Al-Qidra identified the two as Ayman Ziad Abu Jibba, 23, and Abdullah Jibril Abu Aser, 23, and said that their bodies were taken to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

In mid-August, six people were killed in a similar explosion, and watch groups have warned that the ordnance is a particular threat to children, who often think the bombs are toys.

The Gaza Strip is currently littered with a large number of unexploded Israeli ordnance, a constant reminder of the more than 50-day Israeli offensive that left more than 2,150 dead, 11,200 injured, and more than 110,000 homeless.

Although Gaza police explosives teams have been working across the territory to destroy unexploded ordnance and prevent safety threats to locals, lack of proper equipment due to the seven-year Israeli siege as well as lack of resources more generally have hindered efforts.

Even before the most recent Israeli assault, unexploded ordnance from the 2008-9 and 2012 offensives was a major threat to Gazans.

A 2012 report published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 111 civilians, 64 of whom were children, were casualties to unexploded ordnance between 2009 and 2012, reaching an average of four every month in 2012.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health has postponed up to 180 surgeries in the besieged coastal enclave due to strike action by cleaning staff.

Health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said patients will bear the consequences if cleaning staff across Gaza continue to strike.

Some 750 cleaning workers are participating in strike action in protest at not receiving their salaries for five months. The workers used to be paid by the Hamas-run government in Gaza, but the group and the Palestinian Authority are at odds over responsibility for payment of salaries in Gaza.

A senior Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament has called on the movement’s members not to participate in the next round of indirect ceasefire negotiations with Israel in Cairo.

Hamas MP Yahya Moussa said in a post on his Facebook page: ‘I call upon the brothers in the Hamas movement not to participate in the Cairo negotiations concerning an airport and a seaport.’

Moussa added that PA leaders Mahmoud Abbas, Rami Hamdallah, and Azzam al-Ahmad should ‘be commissioned’ for the job of finishing the negotiations, adding: ‘They are the authority, the legitimacy, and the government and they hold the decision to make peace and the decision to go to war. It is their job to break the siege.’

Israel and a delegation comprised of representatives from all major Palestinian political parties are expected to meet before the end of the month for the second half of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza.

Israeli forces blocked a weekly march in the Bethlehem village of al-Masara last Friday, locals said. Dozens of Palestinian and international activists marched in the village to protest against Israel’s confiscation of land in the area, but were forcibly stopped by Israeli soldiers.

Israeli forces were positioned on rooftops and at the entrance to al-Masara and prevented demonstrators from reaching confiscated village land to continue their march.

Since 2006, the residents of al-Masara have protested on a weekly basis, demanding Israeli authorities return village lands confiscated in order to build the Separation Wall as it crosses through their town.