Hamas Defies Abbas' Call for Co-Existence

The majority party Hamas rejects Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' demand to accept co-existence with Israel. Abbas' plan implies an end to Hamas' stated aim of destroying the Jewish state.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The Islamist Hamas Movement has rejected a deadline set by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to accept a plan that indirectly calls for recognition of Israel. Abbas has threatened to put the plan to a referendum. It comes amid simmering tensions between Fatah and Hamas that already have claimed at least a dozen lives.

NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Mahmoud Abbas stunned the Hamas leadership when he announced last week that if Hamas does not accept a plan called the Prisoner's Document within 10 days, he will call for a national referendum. That plan, which was drawn up jointly by Palestinians from Hamas and Fatah who are currently in Israeli jails, calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, if Israel withdraws from all occupied territories. It's being seen as an indirect recognition of Israel.

Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in January, has refused to recognize Israel directly or indirectly. That's led to an international boycott and severe economic sanctions against the Hamas government. Fatah and Hamas were supposed to start national unity talks this weekend, although officials on both sides said they could be delayed. At the same time, some Hamas detainees say the plan does not represent them. The secretary general of the Palestinian Parliament said the plan was written by just one-fifth of the Hamas members in Israeli jails.

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah erupted into violence last week with a series of firefights in which 10 people were killed. Hamas withdrew its militia on Friday to try to calm tensions with Fatah. But yesterday, the black-clad militia were back on the streets, though in smaller numbers. At the same time, Palestinian security officials say Abbas will expand the presidential guard directly under his command with thousands of new members.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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