updated 9/4/2006 12:17:38 AM ET 2006-09-04T04:17:38

Masked militants trying to keep students away from school during a politically charged Palestinian teachers' strike on Sunday shot and wounded a 12-year-old boy.

Palestinian teachers began striking Saturday, the start of the school year, to demand full back pay and regular salaries from the Hamas-led government, which has been financially crippled by six months of international sanctions.

Most schools throughout the West Bank remained closed, some by force, as the strike continued.

At least three masked militants stood outside a school in the northern West Bank city of Nablus and fired in the air to keep children away, witnesses said.

Stray fire hit a 12-year-old boy, Issam Ghannam, in the abdomen, witnesses said.

He was in stable condition after undergoing surgery, doctors said.

"He has passed the danger zone and is now resting in intensive care," said Dr. Khaled Qadiri, a doctor at Rafidya Hospital in Nablus.

The child's family, Fatah loyalists, refused to condemn the militants. "There were unknown men with weapons, preventing the students from going to school," said the boy's uncle, Ghannam Ibrahim Ghannam. "They fired, and as an unintentional result of the shooting he was hit."

Fatah tactic?
The strike was widely viewed as a tactic by Fatah to pressure Hamas to join it in a national unity government. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hopes the alliance will force Hamas to recognize Israel, helping end the sanctions and enabling him to renew peace talks.

Israel, the United States and the European Union _ all of which label Hamas as a terror group _ have demanded the Islamic militant group renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist before they will restore aid to the Palestinian government.

The aid cuts have left the government unable to pay full salaries to its 165,000 employees. An Israeli military offensive in Gaza, launched after Hamas-linked militants captured an Israeli soldier in June, has added to the government's troubles. Some 200 Palestinians, mostly militants, have been killed in the two-month offensive.

Hamas supporters, losing patience themselves with the government's inability to pay their salaries, also have tried to put pressure on the government. In Nablus, teachers loyal to Hamas said while the current strike was to force the government into recognizing Israel, they decided to undertake partial strikes, only teaching for half the school day.

Some residents said they supported the strike, which they said proved how ineffectual the Hamas government was six months after taking office.

"If the teachers don't get salaries, they won't teach my children well," said Yasser Hajir, 38, the father of three children in Nablus. "If the government isn't working for students, and the government isn't able to open schools and hospitals, it has no use and should resign."

Negotiations with Hamas
Other parents condemned the labor action, saying it could lead to youth crime and would damage their children's education.

"The kids are in the streets now, and there are many women who have lots of children like me, their children are in the streets and are not learning," said Nadia Hajj-Ibrahim, a mother of five. "If the strike continues, I won't be able to raise my children, they'll go wild on the streets."

Abbas returned to his West Bank headquarters Saturday after four days of negotiations with Hamas leaders in Gaza. Late Saturday, the PLO's Executive Committee, headed by Abbas, said the talks made little headway and accused Hamas of stalling.

"President Abbas is exerting maximum efforts in order to achieve a government with a political program that will enable us to resume our normal relations with the international community on the political side, on the economic side, on the donor side," Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat, an Abbas ally, said Sunday. "It's difficult, it's not easy, there are many obstacles facing us."

Communications Minister Jamal Khodari announced his resignation from the Hamas-led government without stating his reasons.

Khodari, a wealthy Gaza businessman, had said earlier he was placing his ministry under the supervision of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to make way for a national unity government.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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