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Palestinian Government Strike Widens

Staff from the Palestinian prime minister's office went on strike Wednesday, joining a widespread work stoppage by civil servants demanding overdue salaries from the Hamas-led government.

The strike has shut down schools, government offices and services like garbage collection, reports .

Meanwhile, Israel says it will lift its blockade of Lebanon on Thursday evening.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said international forces would replace the Israelis at command positions over Lebanese seaports and airports. Israel has been maintaining the air, sea and land blockade since the beginning of its offensive in Lebanon, which ended with a cease-fire late last month. The Israeli said the blockade was necessary to prevent new arms shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas.

The strike was especially embarrassing to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, which accuses the rival Fatah party of orchestrating the strike. Haniyeh's government is already embattled by international sanctions and widespread anarchy.

The strikers are demanding overdue salaries, which the Hamas-led government has not paid in full since March, reports Berger.

As the strike shut down much of the Palestinian territories for a fifth day, Israel pressed forward with a military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Six Palestinians, at least five of them Hamas militants, were killed.

The Palestinian government has been in a financial crisis since Hamas took over in March after winning parliamentary elections. Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, has refused international pressure to renounce violence and recognize the Jewish state. In response, Western donors and Israel have cut off aid and transfer payments.

Without the foreign funds, the government has been able only to pay small, sporadic stipends to its 165,000 workers.

Seeking a way out of the crisis, President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate who leads Fatah, has been urging Hamas to soften its positions and ally with it in a national unity government. Hamas has accused Fatah of using the strike as a pressure tactic in coalition talks.

Fatah, which ruled Palestinian politics for decades, still dominates labor unions and security forces. The 30 workers in Haniyeh's office who joined the strike on Wednesday were Fatah loyalists. Even so, the open defiance of their boss embarrassed the premier.

The workers, joining 80,000 other striking civil servants, held up banners that said, "We want our salaries. We have a right to feed our children." Hamas had no immediate comment.

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