Ramallah: Women employees at the Palestinian Women's Affairs Ministry are on a "hunger strike till death" to protest against corruption and harassment.
The hunger strike was announced on Tuesday by the women who gathered near the graveyard of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
"The situation is grave as the women have received threats to be shot in their legs. Ministry authorities have vowed not to let the employees in the offices," a statement by the striking women said.
The statement said Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had pledged to solve the problem but so far has not taken any steps.
Speaking to Gulf News, Manar Al Natour, a woman activist, said "The ministry is now a source that negatively affects the rights of women in Palestine. This is an intolerable situation."
She said the women employees have been informed by the office of the prime minister that their appeal against the illegal procedures of the Palestinian Minister of Women's Affairs has been accepted and that the employees were entitled to return back to work.
"We went back, but the minister issued strict orders to ban our entry and seal our desks," she said.
However, Dr Gassan Al Khateeb, spokesman for the Palestinian Government, told Gulf News that the employees were exaggerating the case.
"There is no need for exaggeration," he said. "The claims and accusations of those employees about administrative and financial corruption along with physical harassment at the Ministry of Women's Affairs are not true, and that they should stop sending such baseless accusations," he said.
Dr Khateeb said the Palestinian Cabinet had set up an investigation committee headed by the Palestinian Ministry of Justice and comprising officials from four different ministries to look into the accusations. The committee concluded that all those accusations were not true and recommended that some of those employees be shifted to other ministries and departments within the Palestinian National Authority.
He said three other committees had earlier investigated those claims and reached the same conclusions. He said following the recommendations of the committee, Dr Fayyad offered the employees a week's grace period to submit their appeals. He said that period was over with either the employees failing to submit appeals or their appeals being rejected.
"The employees can approach the Palestinian judicial system and the higher court to complain," he said.
Dr Khateeb said the government will open a dialogue with the employees and try to persuade them to end the strike.