Palestinian president fires advisers as financial crisis hits

Mahmoud Abbas has rejected Palestinian tax revenues over Israel deductions

FILE - In this April 29, 2019 file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Abbas laid off all of his advisers and ordered a former prime minister and other Cabinet officials to return tens of thousands of dollars they received from a pay raise he had secretly approved two years ago. Palestinian officials said the decisions, announced in official statements, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, came as part of efforts to cut costs and recuperate funds after Israel stopped delivering tax revenues earlier this year. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, Pool, File)
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has fired all of his advisers amid a financial crisis in the occupied West Bank that has prompted deep salary cuts.

The sackings were announced by the Mr Abbas's office on Monday in a brief statement issued through the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, which did not provide further details on the number of advisers or the costs involved.

The move comes amid a financial crunch after Mr Abbas refused to accept further transfers of tax revenues collected by Israel on the Palestinian Authority's behalf. The move was prompted by Israel's decision in February to withhold about $10 million a month in tax transfers.

Israel collects about $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports.

It then transfers the money to the Palestinian government.

The amount it deducted – $138 million for the year – corresponds to what Israel says the Palestinian Authority paid prisoners in Israeli jails, or their families, in 2018.

Prisoners who have carried out attacks on Israelis are among those receiving the payments, and Israel says that encourages further violence.

Palestinians view the prisoners as fighting against Israel's occupation and say the funds support families that have lost their main breadwinners.

Mr Abbas accused Israel of blackmail and refused to take any of the tax transfers, which account for abpout 65 per cent of PA revenues.

The PA has already cut salaries for most its tens of thousands of employees by half to keep the government afloat.

On top of the tax dispute, the United States has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians via various programmes.

Jihad Harb, a Palestinian political analyst, said it appeared Mr Abbas had decided to sack his advisers after receiving a report in June on payments to ministers and officials.

"It is clear that President Abbas received the report from the committee that examined the salaries and benefits of employees," Mr Harb told Agence France-Presse.

He "wants to reduce his office's spending by taking austerity measures to confront the current budget crisis."