Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinian Authority employees were prevented from returning to work at a number of ministries in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a union said, in another sign of tension ahead of a reconciliation deadline.
The UN envoy for the Middle East peace process meanwhile held meetings in the Gaza Strip as part of efforts to urge Hamas and rivals Fatah to follow through on their landmark reconciliation accord mediated by Egypt.
Islamist movement Hamas is scheduled to hand back control of Gaza, including all ministries, to the Palestinian Authority by Friday, a decade after seizing it in a 2007 near civil war.
The Hamas-run union for public employees said it had instructed its delegates to block former employees from returning to work at the ministries, saying their return came in a "random manner" and aimed at "creating great problems".
Witnesses said dozens of former employees were prevented from going back to work at the finance, health and education ministries among others.
After the 2007 power shift, the Palestinian Authority continued to pay around 60,000 staff in Gaza, despite the vast majority not working.
Hamas has hired around 50,000 civil servants to replace them in the past decade, and the future of those staff is a key sticking point.
In a statement the union said that the ban on returning employees would continue until a decision regarding the current Hamas employees was agreed.
Control of some ministries has already been transferred.
- 'Dangerous step' -
On Tuesday, Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah called on PA employees to return to their former jobs, with Hamas criticising the move.
The reconciliation agreement signed last month between both sides stipulates they have until February to find a solution for the Gaza employees, which could include merging the two civil services.
A spokesman for Hamdallah's government said in a statement that blocking the employees was a "dangerous step" that threatened the reconciliation agreement.
In return, a Hamas spokesman said the Palestinian Authority government carried "responsibility for causing chaos and confusion," saying Hamdallah had violated the terms of the reconciliation agreement by encouraging staff to return to work.
The future of Hamas's armed wing is another key dispute between the parties.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, encouraged the rivals to press ahead Wednesday after meetings with Egyptian officials in Gaza overseeing the reconciliation process.
"The agreement that was reached in Cairo is a very important agreement," he told journalists.
"It provides a good framework through which to bring the West Bank and Gaza back under a single legitimate Palestinian Authority."
Mladenov also expressed hope that the agreement would lead to an easing of humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, which suffers from a lack of basic services such as electricity and clean water.
"I hope that in the next few days, as the talks continue, they will be successful and that in December, the factions Hamas and Fatah will meet again in Cairo under the auspices of Egypt to make sure that the implementation of the Cairo agreement remains on schedule," he said.