Hamas rejects deadline on Israel recognition plan

GAZA (Reuters) — Hamas on Saturday rejected a deadline set by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept a plan that indirectly calls for recognition of Israel, which he has threatened to put to a referendum.

Abbas had stunned the Islamist group by giving it 10 days to accept the plan, and talks had been expected to begin on Saturday.

However, Sami Abu-Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said they would be delayed, adding: “There is no need for the 10-day idea. As long as we are talking about dialogue, there shouldn’t be any dates set.”

Abbas says he will hold the vote within 40 days if Hamas does not accept the plan, which calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel if Israel withdraws from occupied territories, and was drawn up by Palestinian leaders jailed by Israel.

Abu-Zuhri said the sides had also not agreed on a slate of negotiators. Hamas wants the talks to be held in Gaza, officials said.

Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, has already rejected the plan.

Its continued refusal to renounce violence or recognise Israel has led to an international financial boycott that has threatened to bankrupt the Palestinian Authority.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, an official close to Abbas, said the Palestinian president would invite Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other top officials to discuss the plan on Sunday.

Abed Rabbo cautioned that Abbas had the authority to dismiss the Hamas government.

Hamas legislator Mahmoud Ramahi told Reuters that Hamas was “not being offered anything in return” from the international community for recognising Israel.

The group has sought guarantees its members would no longer be subject to arrest as suspected fighters.

Hamas redeploys police

A power struggle between Abbas’ Fateh and Hamas, which defeated Fateh in the January elections, has intensified in recent weeks, raising fears of civil war.

Tension flared again on Saturday when several dozen members of a 3,000-strong Hamas-led militia, which Abbas wants disbanded, were redeployed in Gaza a day after being taken off the streets.

They took up positions on several commercial avenues in Gaza City, witnesses said.

Youssef Zahar, a leader of the force, said it had staged a “limited deployment” in response to citizens’ requests.

About 400 Fateh men fired rifles in the air in protest against the Hamas deployment and demanded acceptance of the peace plan drawn up by the prisoners.

“We respect the document and call on all parties to respect it,” said Abu Haron, a spokesman for the group.

The plan calls for a two-state solution once Israel withdraws all its forces from the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, captured in a 1967 war.

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