GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Thousands of Palestinian workers left postal banks carrying crisp $100 bills Monday, their first payday since March, as the Hamas-led government dipped into suitcases full of cash its officials carried into Gaza to circumvent a Western aid cutoff.
Only postal banks dared handle the money because commercial banks fear anti-terrorism sanctions, and Palestinian officials admitted they had no way to transport the money to the West Bank or convert it to a local currency for electronic transfers.
The United States, Israel and European Union list Hamas as a terrorist group because it rejects the existence of Israel and has sent dozens of suicide bombers into the Jewish state, killing hundreds.
The West demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous peace accords, but Hamas refuses. As a result, the West has cut off aid.
Last week, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, hauled $20 million in cash across the Egyptian border into Gaza, and another official followed with $2 million. Hamas officials said the money came from private donations and Islamic charities. The money distributed to workers Monday came from those suitcases.
Though Hamas officials insist they will continue carrying cash across the border, it is not nearly enough to solve their government's financial crisis.
The Palestinian Authority is the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza with 165,000 workers, and their salaries add up to about $130 million a month. The last three paydays have been missed, and another is due in less than two weeks.
Hundreds of civil servants lined up at Gaza post offices Monday for payouts. Living without paychecks for so long, government workers have sold valuables and run up large debts to scrape by.
"I'm worried because I don't know where to begin. The grocery wants money. The bakery wants money, and I also need to pay my rent," said Samir Hassanya, 42, a health worker.
The Finance Ministry said 91,000 workers earning $333-$555 a month received $300 Monday. Earlier this month, the government paid 40,000 workers who earn below $333 a month.