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 militant group, which won an election in January, by giving it 10 days to accept the plan, and talks had been expected to begin on Saturday.
But 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 or a venue.
Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, has already rejected the plan.
But its continued refusal to renounce violence or recognise Israel has triggered severe international pressure, including a 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 of Hamas and other top officials to discuss the plan on Sunday.
Abed Rabbo cautioned that Abbas had the authority to dismiss the Hamas government.
A power struggle between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas, which defeated Fatah in a January parliamentary poll, has intensified in recent weeks, raising fears of a civil war.
Tension flared anew 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 al-Zahar, a leader of the force, said it had staged a “limited deployment” in response to citizens’ requests.
The Palestinian Interior Ministry confirmed it had decided to partially redeploy the forces.
The peace plan drawn up by Palestinian prisoners 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.
Despite its rejection by Hamas, the document has carried weight because the prisoners, jailed for violence against Israelis, are regarded as heroes by many Palestinians.
Israel has not responded to the plan and has vowed to set borders with Palestinian territory unilaterally unless peace talks can be resumed within months.