Russia said yesterday it had promised emergency aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, breaking with the European Union and the United States, which have stopped funding to try to force Hamas to recognize Israel.
The Foreign Ministry said the offer came in a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Russia’s offer was announced as dozens of Palestinian security men stormed a government building and blocked roads in the Gaza Strip demanding the Hamas-led administration pay overdue salaries.
"Salaries, or go home," the protesters chanted in the central town of Khan Younis, directing their message at Hamas in the biggest such demonstration since the Islamic militant group assumed power last month following its January election victory.
The security men, some of them firing into the air, rushed into a government building in the town, briefly occupying offices and forcing workers to leave. They also blocked roads leading south to Rafah, on the border with Egypt.
Salaries for the 140,000 employees on the Palestinian Authority’s payroll are two weeks overdue. Many of the protesters in Khan Younis belonged to Mr. Abbas’ Fatah faction, Hamas’ political rival.
The United States and the European Union have cut direct aid to the Hamas-led government because it has not met their demands to renounce violence, recognize Israel and agree to abide by interim peace deals.
The U.S. Treasury Department has also barred Americans, U.S. companies and the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms from pursuing most business dealings with the Palestinian Authority.
In addition, Israel has blocked the transfer of customs and tax receipts.
It was not immediately clear when the Russian aid would arrive.
Mr. Lavrov has previously said that halting aid was a mistake though he has urged Hamas to meet the demands of international mediators.
Russia is the only major power to have received Hamas leaders on an official visit since its landslide win in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January.
Palestinian Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek of Hamas said on Al Jazeera television yesterday that he was "appalled and astonished" by the Khan Younis protest.
"Everyone knows [the cash crunch] is the result of the oppressive isolation that is forced on the Palestinian people and the government. They all know that the account is empty ... and we don’t have enough to pay salaries," he said.
Hamas says it inherited a Palestinian Authority with empty coffers and more than $1.3 billion in government debts. The movement won elections on a platform of cleaning up government corruption and pursuing armed struggle against Israel.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on Friday the "unholy alliance" led by the United States would not bring down the Hamas government and warned of grave consequences if it did.