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Abbas sets July vote on Palestinian state

Ruling Hamas rejects plan because it implicitly recognizes Israel
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech Saturday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.




(CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday scheduled a July referendum on a proposal to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel -- even though ruling party Hamas has rejected the plan.

Hamas refused to support the plan, drawn up by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, because it would implicitly recognize the state of Israel. The Hamas charter calls for its destruction.

The proposal calls for a two-state solution, with Palestine made up of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem within the borders that existed before the 1967 war with Israel.

Ismail Haniyeh, Palestinian Authority prime minister, met with Abbas on Saturday night to discuss the referendum, an Abbas adviser said. They planned to resume their meeting on Sunday.

In addition, the parliament will convene on Monday to discuss the referendum's legality, the adviser said.

Haniyeh opposes the referendum because he says it will hurt Palestinian unity, according to The Associated Press and Reuters news agencies.

The nonbinding referendum will be held on July 26, Abbas said in a speech. He added that if an agreement is made with Hamas, even one day before the vote, "the matter is solved."

Abbas, whose Fatah faction was defeated by Hamas in a January election, had initially said he would announce the referendum date earlier this week to allow time for more talks with Hamas.

"The chance is open to reach an agreement," Abbas said Saturday. "Otherwise, we will all be wasting our time."

Among the prisoners who drafted the plan are Fatah secretary-general Marwan Barghouti and Abdel Halek Natshe of Hamas.

Truce called off

The announcement comes a day after Hamas' military wing promised a resumption of attacks against Israel after a hiatus of 16 months. A leaflet issued by the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades said seven rockets were shot at Israel on Friday. On Saturday the Israeli military confirmed 11 rocket launches into Israel from Gaza.

Also Saturday, a car exploded in Khan Yunis, wounding four militants from Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, according to initial reports from Palestinian security sources. The Israel Defense Forces, however, said there was no attack.

Hamas' rocket attacks were prompted by a string of Israeli attacks, including an artillery shell blast that killed at least seven Palestinians picnicking on a northern Gaza beach on Friday.

The killings sparked swift and sustained outrage in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere; Israel Defense Forces has halted firing pending an investigation. (Watch Israeli and Palestinian forces square off -- 1:20)

In his Saturday speech, Abbas condemned the beach incident as a "despicable massacre ... the Israeli artillery was aimed at children, women -- innocent children and women who were sitting on the seashore, on the sea beach having fun on a normal weekend.

"Yesterday, a whole family was murdered, all its members, by the Israeli Defense Forces," Abbas said.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Saturday a message of regret has been sent to Abbas. Peretz stopped short of accepting responsibility, saying Israel would do so only if an investigation confirmed the IDF was responsible.

In the message, Peretz also asked Abbas to take measures to prevent an escalation of violence. Israel does not want to see further violence, but Israel was forced to act after rockets were fired into its territory, Peretz said.

Israeli Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said the military was investigating the possibility that it was not naval artillery that struck the Palestinians on the Gaza beach.

The IDF said earlier it had been firing on rocket-launching areas in Gaza after a militant attack earlier in the day. The target areas were believed to be uninhabited, a representative said.

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported the IDF had apologized for the beach killings, saying it "regretted the strike on innocents."

Also Saturday, clashes erupted in Gaza City between Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian security sources said.

There were no reports of casualties. But the convoy of Rashid Abu Shbak was fired on during the funeral of an officer who was killed, sources said. Shbak heads three Palestinian services: Internal security, preventive security and the fire department.

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