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Abbas gives Hamas 10 days to accept Israel

Otherwise, Palestinian leader says he'll seek referendum on issue



JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given his rivals in the Hamas-led government 10 days to accept a plan for a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel, or else he will call for a national referendum on the question.

Abbas urged the Hamas-led government on Thursday to accept the national goal of establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank alongside Israel.

"In 10 days, you have to decide; you have to agree," Abbas told a conference of Palestinian leaders, including Hamas and his Fatah Party, meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"If you don't agree, then I will say that frankly none of us will be responsible, and in 40 days I will call for a referendum. I will ask my people directly whether they accept or do not accept this [plan]."

Hamas, which has historically vowed to seek the destruction of Israel, took control of the Palestinian Authority from Fatah after a surprise election win in January. The United States, the European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

If Hamas were to accept Abbas' demand it would effectively mean recognizing Israel.

Some observers believe Hamas may reject a deal with Fatah, but not oppose a referendum, CNN's John Vause reported from Jerusalem.

"In some ways this could give Hamas an out because they've been looking for some kind of way of moderating their position while remaining true to their charter, remaining true to their platform on which they were elected," Vause said.

"They can't recognize Israel. If Hamas recognizes Israel, it ceases to be Hamas. So for many within Hamas, this could be a convenient way out of that dilemma -- go directly to the people, hold a referendum, be bound by those results and then turn around and say, 'We are listening to the will of the Palestinian people. This is true democracy.' "

Abbas' dramatic move came in a week of deadly clashes between militants supporting Hamas and Fatah, and the day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the U.S. Congress that Israel would not wait "forever" for the Palestinians to agree to establishing borders. (Full story)

The call to action also follows the United States and EU cutting off direct nonhumanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Authority until Hamas recognizes Israel.

Opinion polls suggest that Palestinians support establishing a state comprising Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem to exist alongside Israel, but Palestinian ambitions may not mesh with Israeli visions of a permanent border.

Palestinian prime minister sees 'critical moment'

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya on Thursday called for national unity and a joint political platform between his party, Hamas, and Fatah, saying, "The best thing that we can work on is to remain united -- to work together."

He said, "We are now passing through a very critical moment where all of us need to behave very responsibly ... so that we can face all the challenges internally and externally."

Until its upset by Hamas in parliamentary elections, Fatah was the dominant force in Palestinian politics.

Violence in the Palestinian territories increased this week as the Hamas-led government deployed its own militia against Abbas' orders. The action sparked a rivalry with existing Palestinian security forces and raised fears of a possible civil war.

A 19-year-old man was killed Thursday as clashes between the opposing factions continued in Gaza City, Palestinian security sources said. Another 15 people were said to be hurt in the violence.

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