The unity government founded between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and terrorist group Hamas on Monday is hitting early snags, as brawls broke out in Gaza on Thursday over the payment of employees of the two groups, leading to the closure of banks.
Hamas violently took control of Gaza in 2007, and began cracking down on Fatah officials living in the territory. Since then the PA has continued paying roughly 70,000 employees in Gaza.
Thousands of Hamas employees, who have not been paid for the last several weeks, lined up at bank ATMs in Gaza on Thursday, hoping to now withdraw their back-logged salaries thanks to the unity government, reports Reuters.
While PA employees were able to withdraw their salaries, the Hamas workers remained without payment. Fistfights broke out between the two groups of employees, with Hamas riot police breaking them up and closing the banks, reportedly to prevent more violence.
"You call this a reconciliation? We should all eat or no one does," a Hamas employee reportedly shouted, as a PA worker responded "why is it our fault? Go and ask your Hamas leaders who signed the deal - why prevent us from feeding our families?"
Negative influences on "unity" from gunshots and violence
The tension between Hamas and Fatah was highlighted in the remarks of PA security forces spokesman Adnan Dmeiri.
"Thugs and gangsters of Hamas are preventing civil servants from withdrawing their salaries. They are firing gunshots, beating citizens and smashing ATM machines," Dmeiri told the Arab Ma'an News Agency, noting that banks were closed Thursday.
The incident could have negative consequences on the unity agreement with Fatah according to Dmeiri, who said he was waiting for Hamas leadership to denounce the scuffles.
One PA employee in Gaza told the Arab news agency that he was waiting at an Arab Bank ATM when Hamas police arrived in jeeps and started threatening PA workers. One Hamas officer told him that "no one can receive a salary before we receive our salaries."
Bankrolling the terrorist organization
A spokesman for the unity government said the Hamas workers needed to be vetted by a committee before being added to the payroll. "Be patient and give the unity government a chance to work," said spokesman, Ehab Bessaiso.
Israel has already warned that international funds transferred to the PA will end up paying Hamas and funding terror, a point of contention with the US which has said it will "work with" the unity government.
The US has claimed Hamas is not part of the government, even though three Hamas-backed ministers were sworn in via video feed from Gaza on Monday, and the group has announced that any "unity" government would be unequivocally subject to their approval before being established.