Palestinian Prez Abbas set to call referendum

Palestinian Prez was on Saturday set to order a referendum on a statehood proposal that recognises Israel.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2006 08:44 IST

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was on Saturday set to order a referendum on a statehood proposal that implicitly recognises Israel despite bloodshed that prompted Hamas rivals to vow renewed attacks on Israelis, officials said.

The Islamist group's armed wing said it would end a 16-month-old ceasefire after Israel was blamed for the killing of 10 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including seven people relaxing on a beach. Hamas is formally sworn to destroy Israel.

Any major surge of violence could endanger the chances of the referendum on the manifesto, which the Hamas-led Palestinian Government rejects and wants Abbas to shelve. Abbas is expected to call for the vote, to be held by July 31.

Officials of Abbas's Fatah movement said he was determined to go ahead despite what he called 'a bloody massacre' in Gaza and the Hamas decision to abandon the truce.

"Any more delay will only lead to increased Israeli-Palestinian and Palestinian-Palestinian bloodshed," said one Fatah official. Abbas extendedthe deadline by several days this week for Hamas to accept the proposal.

Israel said it was investigating whether its forces were responsible for killing the seven Palestinians on the beach in the northern Gaza Strip, an area it had been shelling to stop militants firing rockets over the border.

Among the dead were three children aged 1, 3 and 10. Wailing in grief, their sister threw herself on the sand beside bloodied bodies and the scattered remains of beachgoers' picnics. She survived because she had been in the sea.

Palestinians said the seven people were killed by an Israeli shell. The army said it was too early to be certain.

"This may have been an accident which caused an artillery shell to fall off course, or an older unexploded shell which went off, or perhaps an explosive device which was tinkered with," said Major-General Yoav Galant.

He said he was sorry for the loss of civilian life.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was 'deeply disturbed' by the killing of civilians and called for a full investigation, spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

Israel earlier killed three men in an airstrike on what the army said was a rocket crew. Palestinians said they were civilians. Rocket fire had intensified on Friday following Israel's killing of a senior militant the day before.

First Published: Jun 10, 2006 08:44 IST