Palestinian Police Take Over Gov't Office to Protest Hamas

Masked Palestinian police sealed off a main road in the central Gaza town of Khan Younis on Saturday and took over a government building in anger at not receiving their salaries from the Hamas-led government.

The gunmen surrounded the building where town councilors have their offices, taking positions on the roof and on balconies and firing in the air. The Palestinian Chamber of Commerce also has offices there.

The protest was one of the first signs of discontent with the new government, which took office late last month.

Western nations have cut off aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, demanding Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel also cut off the monthly transfer of about $50 million in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

Israeli officials say they hope the financial pressure forces Hamas to moderate or stirs enough popular discontent to remove the government.

With salaries for the government's 140,000 employees two weeks overdue, about 50 masked policemen protested Saturday by shutting Khan Younis' main road, which links the central Gaza town with the rest of the Gaza Strip.

Sporadically firing rifles in the air, the gunmen paralyzed Khan Younis, forcing workers traveling from northern Gaza to get out of their cars and walk more than a half a mile to get into town.

Those heading to the southern town of Rafah had to take back roads.