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Abbas Calls for Referendum, Hamas- Fatah Violence Continues
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called during a national dialogue on Thursday for a referendum on a proposal seeking a negotiated settlement with Israel as fresh clashes erupted between Hamas and Fatah supporters in Gaza City.

Addressing the two-day national dialogue which kicked off in Gaza and the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday, Abbas said, "I would like to say frankly that the time and situation are unbearable, so I will put the document for referendum within 40 days."

"This is not a threat, but you have to decide (on the document) within 10 days, all of us are responsible. Within 40 days, we will ask the people to decide," he added.

The document dubbed "National Accordance" refers to a proposal reached earlier this month by prominent Palestinian leaders from several factions including Fatah, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Islamic Jihad (Holy War), who are jailed in an Israeli prison.

The proposal supports resistance against the Israeli occupation as well as a negotiated settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It also calls for the formation of a Palestinian national unity government, demands Israel to withdraw to borders before the 1967 Mideast war and calls for an independent Palestinian with Jerusalem as capital and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Abbas' call for a referendum, an unexpected move to many, came as Palestinian factions are engaged in talks designed to defuse tensions between rival Hamas and Fatah over security control in the Gaza Strip and tackle a deepening financial crisis that might lead to a humanitarian disaster on the Palestinian territories.

"President Abbas' statements were like a bomb that exploded in the middle of the parties as they started their dialogue," said Mohamed Abu Zareefa, a Gaza-based Palestinian observer.

"It is hard to say whether the referendum will be conducted or not, but let's see the final results of the national dialogue," he said.

"Going for a referendum is not easy since it will need the approval of all parties and also much preparation," he added.

Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dweik, who is also a senior Hamas leader, welcomed Abbas' call for the referendum.

The proposal would be put for referendum if the factions failed to adopt it during the two-day dialogue, said Dweik.

Minister of Religious Endowments and senior Hamas member Nayefal-Rajoub also said that the Hamas-led government would "accept the result of the referendum if it is carried out, in the same way as we accepted the results of the January parliamentary elections" in which Hamas scored a sweeping victory.

Prime Minister and senior Hamas leader Ismail Haneya, on his part, urged for national unity, but vowed no concessions which he said would harm the Palestinian interests.

Haneya made the statements in Gaza via live video link with the Ramallah meeting venue since he and other Gaza-based Hamas officials were prevented by Israel from traveling to the West Bank.

"Today's meeting is aimed to boost our national unity and all of us are endangered as we live on harsh conditions with Western conspiracy," said Haneya.

"There will never be a civil war on the Palestinian territories," he stressed against a backdrop of increasing tensions and repeated violent clashes between his own Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement over security control in the Gaza Strip.

Haneya also defended the formation of a new 3,000-strong Hamas-controlled security force. The troops, consisting mainly of Hamas gunmen, were deployed in the Gaza streets last week despite Abbas' opposition and have clashed with police loyal to Fatah.

The goal of forming the new security force was not to "show power but to help the regular police force maintain security," Haneya said.

Haneya also urged the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), seen as the sole representatives of the Palestinians, to reform.

The PLO, which espouses a negotiated peace with Israel, groups together key Palestinian factions including Fatah, but not Hamas.

Hamas defeated Abbas' once dominant Fatah movement in the January legislative polls and took the reins of the government in late March.

The Islamic group, calling for Israel's destruct, has refused to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and abide by previous Palestinian-Israeli deals.

Besides uneasy relations with Fatah, the Hamas-led government is also facing a severe financial crisis due to the West's cutoff of aid and Washington-led political isolation.

As if to underscore the difficulty the national dialogue will face in a bid to end bitter rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, supporters to the two groups clashed once again in Gaza City on Thursday.

At least 10 people, including several security officers, were wounded in the fierce gunbattle between the Hamas-led security force and the Palestinian Preventive Security force loyal to Fatah.
Hamas and Fatah have traded accusations against each other of starting the new wave of clashes.

About 10 people were killed and dozens wounded in bloody confrontations between Hamas and Fatah supporters during the past few weeks. Many of the casualties were civilians caught in the exchange of fire.

(Xinhua News Agency May 26, 2006)

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