Saturday, June 10, 2006

Abbas sets date for referendum

By Wafa Amr

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, stepping up a power struggle with the Hamas-led government, announced on Saturday a July 26 referendum on a statehood proposal implicitly recognising Israel.

Hours before the moderate Palestinian leader issued his decree, Hamas formally ended a 16-month truce by firing rockets at Israel in response to the killing of seven people on a Gaza beach during Israeli shelling on Friday.

Hopes for peacemaking appeared even more remote, with Abbas and the Islamist group that defeated his Fatah faction in a January election locked in political confrontation and Hamas and Israel on a fast track to battle.

"As chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and president of the Palestinian Authority, I have decided to exercise my constitutional right and duty to hold a referendum over the document of national agreement," Abbas declared in a decree read by an aide.

Hamas officials accuse Abbas of using the referendum, penned by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, to try to engineer the downfall of their government, which has struggled with a Western aid embargo and growing disorder.

The manifesto calls for a Palestinian state, alongside Israel, on all of the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. Opinion polls show most Palestinians back the proposal. Israel calls it a non-starter.

Palestinians will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on the question: "Do you agree with the document of national agreement -- the prisoner's document?", the aide said.


In the Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinian mourners wept with 7-year-old Huda Ghalya as she kneeled to kiss her dead father before he, her mother and three siblings were buried.

The five, including a 4-month-old, a 3-year-old and a 10-year-old, were among the seven killed during a seaside outing on Friday after Israeli gunboats shelled the area to curb cross-border rocket fire. Twenty people were wounded.

"Please do not leave me alone," said Huda, who had been swimming in the Mediterranean when the blast tore up the beach.

A spokesman for Hamas's Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades said they had resumed attacks against Israel in response to the shelling, firing 11 rockets and 12 mortar bombs from Gaza.

The army said it identified four impacts inside Israel, which caused no casualties or damage.

Israel Radio said Defence Minister Amir Peretz had sent a message to Abbas voicing "deep regret at the deaths of innocent people".

Israel's army said one of its shells may have hit the beach by accident, but it was still investigating. The radio reported Peretz would receive the results of the probe later in the day.

Hamas has abstained from striking in Israel since a truce was announced in early 2005. Israeli officials said the group has been helping other militant factions to carry out daily rocket launchings from Gaza, territory Israel quit last year.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)

See also: 'Hamas breaks truce with rockets' - BBC News

1 comment:

William said...

The NCF will send a press delegation to Palestine on 26th July to monitor the referendum.