your love gives me such a thrill, but your love won't pay my bills...I want money!
Six people were wounded today (two in a separate incident) in fighting in Gaza between Palestinian police and gunmen demanding jobs and unpaid wages.
The gunmen blocked off the main road leading to the Erez terminal-used mainly by Palestinian officials and VIPs-and exchanged fire with security forces in a two-hour long battle. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's motorcade was on its way to Tel Aviv at the time for a follow-up meeting with Americans, Egyptians, Europeans, and Israelis on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
They then took the battle to Gaza City near where I live, shooting at a police station and in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Machine gun fire echoed throughout the city as police sirens wailed up and down the streets.
The gunmen belong mainly to Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, many who are demanding to be absorbed into an alrady boated and unsustainable security apparatus (the PA was running training wokrshops for some of the Brigade members, according two guys I overhead talking in an elevator last week. "But it will be a major problem. They just don't realize how many of us they are" one said). Some were part of a group hired into the security forces just before Hamas took power, and have not yet recieved their wages, as I reported in a story for the Guardian today.
The wage fears are not limited to security forces, which many argue do need to be streamlined anyway - municipality workers have been on strike for two days protesting late wages. Uncollected rubbish has piled up throughout the city, with many neighbourhoods opting to burn it to prevent rats from nesting.
The cash-strapped authority is finding it increasingly difficult to pay the salaries of the about 130, 000 people it employs as is-up to 70,000 of them security personnel, especially in the face of rising international pressure on the newly-elected Hamas government.
All of this is happening at a time that Gaza faces an unprecedented food shortage (Israel briefly reopened al-Mintar to allow trucks to deliver food today, only to close it again an hour later-in line with Weisglas's "diet but dont' kill" policy) , and as Gaza's economy is losing about $600,000 a day because of the closure, which has forced some farmers to feed their rotting vegetables to goats, while others are reduced to selling what remains of their marked-for-export produce in bulk on donkey carts in the city, charging only £1 for 20 kg of tomatoes on the vine.
Security will suffer in the long term: James Wolfensohn, the international community's envoy, recently warned that the Palestinian Authority could face imminent collapse unless aid was continued, leading to more violence and chaos.
As director of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs David Shearer told me last week, if the money for the security forces payroll runs out there will be 70,000 men running around Gaza, unable to feed their families, most of them armed, and approximately 1 million Palestinians without a bread winner.
These men, along with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members, will constitute one of the biggest challenges for the upcoming government-something I wrote about in an feature story for Aljazeera a few weeks back that hits on this very issue. The brigades, along with Islamic Jihad and the Marxist PFLP, are responsible for the bulk of rocket attacks against Israel and for kidnappings of foreigners, not Hamas.
They are loose cannons, used to the days of quick and easy payoffs, and are now demanding to be absorbed into an already bloated and unsustainable security apparatus "or else". Along with Israeli moves and western aid cuts, their actions threaten to destabilize the nascent Palestinian government before it even gets started.
How Hamas will deal with such threats remains to be seen, especially in the face of increasing international pressure and isolation. As the song says, "you're love gives me such a thrill, but you're love won't pay my bills-I want money!"
Hear is my interview with the BBC's World Update (click on "audio").