Gaza Strip Thousands of Palestinian police officers joined a protest over unpaid wages Thursday, firing in the air and smashing windows. It was the most violent demonstration yet against the Hamas-led government.
The unrest came as the Islamic militant Hamas debated whether to agree to the idea of a Palestinian state next to Israel, including implicit recognition of the Jewish state, or face a national referendum. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given Hamas until the middle of next week to decide.
Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas hard-liner, said during a visit to China on Thursday that he opposes the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which calls for a two-state solution to the Mideast conflict. However, other Hamas politicians, particularly in the West Bank, have signaled willingness to go along with Abbas.
A new survey indicated the vast majority of Palestinians side with Abbas.
Hamas was founded two decades ago with the goal of destroying Israel and establishing an Islamic state in its place.
Since taking office in March, Hamas has been unable to pay about 165,000 civil servants because of international funding cuts over its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
Among those not being paid are tens of thousands of members of the security forces, many loyal to Abbas and his Fatah movement.
Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said Wednesday the government has raised enough money to pay only 40,000 low-wage workers, leaving more than 100,000 workers, including many security officers, without salaries for a third straight month.