The Jordan Times
August 12, 2008 - 4:28pm

GAZA CITY (AP) - A severe cash shortage gripped the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Monday as tens of thousands of people were unable to withdraw money from banks in the poverty-stricken territory.

Israel promised to transfer more money to Gaza on Tuesday.

But the shortage highlighted the daily hardships still faced by Gaza’s 1.4 million residents despite a June ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that has brought some badly needed relief.

The delicate truce suffered a setback on Monday when unidentified Gaza fighters fired a rocket into Israel, hitting an open area in the town of Sderot, causing no casualties, Israeli police said.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered crossings into Gaza closed on Tuesday in response, his office said.

Fighters have violated the ceasefire several times since it went into effect. No armed group immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. Israel began blockading Gaza after Hamas violently seized power in Gaza, hoping to halt militant rocket fire and undermine the group’s rule.

The blockade has been loosened since the truce began, but widespread shortages persist.

Lacking a currency of their own, Gazans use Israeli shekels. But with little new Israeli money entering Gaza, the banknotes in circulation are either being hoarded or have been damaged from overuse.

Bank tellers turned people away Monday, and many automatic teller machines were not working.

“I’ve been trying to withdraw my salary since yesterday morning. I don’t have a shekel in my pocket,” said Bassam, a 23-year-old civil servant, who was waiting outside a bank in Gaza City, hoping he could withdraw his salary of 2,000 Israeli shekels ($560).

He declined to give his family name because his salary is paid by Hamas’ rival, moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, and he did not want to be publicly identified as taking money from Abbas’ government.

Two young men standing beside him said they had the same problem.

Mohammad Ayyad, a spokesman for the Abbas government’s Palestinian Monetary Authority, said officials were in contact with Gaza banks to determine how much cash each needed. And Israel’s defence ministry announced Monday it would transfer to Gaza some of the Palestinian funds it holds from collecting taxes and other revenues.

A statement said Israel would send 72 million shekels ($20 million) to Gaza, in compliance with a request from Abbas’ government, to pay the salaries of the civil servants.

Gaza has suffered chronic cash shortages since the Hamas takeover, but residents said they had never before been told the money had run out altogether.

“In the past, if there was a crisis, the bank would let me withdraw a limited amount, but this is the first time I’ve been told there is no money,” Bassam said.


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