Swearing-in of unity government in Ramallah
Swearing-in of unity government in RamallahFlash 90

In yet another sign of trouble, ministers and officials of the Palestinian consensus government on Monday ended a visit to Gaza a day after arriving for talks on salaries of thousands of public employees.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency that the trip, which was to have lasted a week, was cut short on the orders of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah over a thorny employment dispute dividing Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza.

Since 2014, when the two rivals tried to bury the hatchet after years of bitter and bloody rivalry, Hamas has demanded that the government cover the salaries of its 50,000 employees who have been on the books since the Islamists seized power in the tiny enclave in 2007.

They took over from 70,000 employees of the PA who were forced out of their positions but have still been receiving their salaries.

But the year-old consensus government has pledged to return the 70,000 former employees to their posts, saying that Hamas workers would be hired only "according to need".

On Sunday, eight ministers and about 30 senior officials arrived in the coastal strip for talks on the issue, but on Monday Hamdallah told them their mission was over, blaming "differences of opinion with Hamas", according to AFP.

"The delegation was prevented from bringing its assignment to a successful conclusion," the government official quoted him as saying.

The issue of payment for workers in Gaza has been a point of contention between the sides for a long time. Hamas, enraged when the new unity government did not pay its employees’ salaries, shut down all the banks in Gaza for roughly a week back in June.

On Monday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the delegation from Ramallah had been interested only in the future of the PA staff.

The government, he said, "must assume its responsibilities towards all employees without discrimination", repeating a call he made last week on the same issue.

The payment issue is only one of several areas of conflict between the two sides which has placed the unity government in danger of collapse.

Last week, an explosive was detonated in western Gaza City right by Abbas's former home, which was turned into Palestinian Cabinet headquarters after the unity deal between Hamas and the PA last April.

A day later, two more explosions rocked Gaza, with one going off right next to UNRWA offices - around three meters from the door according to UNRWA workers.

There has been a wave of internal violence between arch-rivals Hamas and Abbas's Fatah faction, unity deal notwithstanding, as Fatah and Hamas officials in Gaza, Judea and Samaria have long been targeted in mysterious assassination attempts.

Those attempts included a spate of shootings in Gaza in February that threatened to slide the region into open internal warfare.