Hamas said on Wednesday it will ban the organisation of elections in its Gaza Strip stronghold after president Mahmud Abbas called for a vote in the Palestinian territories.
The move raised doubts about whether the vote decreed by the Western-backed president would take place in January and threatened to further deepen the bitter rift between his secular Fatah party and its Islamist rivals.
The Hamas-run interior ministry said in a statement it "will hold accountable anyone involved in the elections."
The ministry "rejects the holding of elections in the Gaza Strip because they were announced by someone who has no right to make such an announcement and because it came without national agreement," it added.
Last week Abbas called for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on January 24 after Hamas declined to sign on to an Egypt-brokered reconciliation agreement inked by his secular Fatah party.
Abbas issued a decree ordering elections in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, in a move seen by some as turning up the heat on the Islamist group to sign the deal.
Hamas -- which trounced Abbas's secular Fatah faction in the last parliamentary elections in January 2006 -- rejected the decree as an "illegal and unconstitutional step."