Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, stepping up a power struggle with the Hamas-led government, announced on Saturday a July 26 referendum on a statehood proposal implicitly recognizing Israel.
"As chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and president of the Palestinian Authority, I have decided to exercise my constitutional right and duty to hold a referendum over the document of national agreement," Abbas declared in a decree read by an aide.
The document calls for a Palestinian state, alongside Israel, on all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Opinion polls show most Palestinians back the proposal.
Palestinians will be asked to vote "Yes" or "No" On the question: "Do you agree with the document of national agreement the prisoner's document?"
Abbas slams Israel for 'crime against humanity'
Speaking to reporters in Ramallah Saturday, Abbas harshly condemned Israel for the violent incidents which left seven members of the Ghalia family dead in Beit Lahiya on Friday.
"Yesterday, a horrendous massacre took place on the Gaza beach. The Israeli army had killed an entire family. Huda became an orphan after watching her family murdered before her eyes. The answer for these dreadful acts must be the humanity and firmness of this people," Abbas stated.
Abbas called Friday's attack "a crime against humanity," and said that in addition to the daily suffering the Palestinians are subjected to, the PA is facing the tragedy of an international boycott because of its democratic elections.
"In the face of all theses problems we must do something. We cannot stand by idly," he said.
According to the PA leader, the intra-Palestinian dialogue should be based on the prisoners' document, which has been widely accepted by the people. A referendum will help resolve the financial crisis prevailing in the territories, the presidents stressed.
"I am convinced that once we agree on the principles of a peace settlement in a referendum, the international embargo will be lifted," Abbas told the reporters.
Meanwhile, a Hamas spokesman swiftly rejected the announcement as a "declaration of a coup against the government", and urged Palestinians to boycott the vote.
Beit Lahiya funerals
Thousands of Gazans attended Saturday afternoon the funerals of the seven members of the Ghalia family, who were killed by IDF artillery fire Friday.
Mourners carry baby's body (Photo: AP)
"If representatives of the government or of the Palestinian organizations are targeted, their resistance will be as hard and as violent," Hamas' Spokesman Mushir al-Masri, who took part in the funerals in Beit Lahiya, told Ynet.
According to al-Masri, Hamas' decision to renew attacks against Israel after 16 months of calm, stems from "this Israeli crime that proved there are no hawks and doves in Israel. Peretz has proven that there is no difference between the Likud, Kadima and the Labor Party. When it comes to the Palestinians, they are all terrorists, they are all predators that use only the language of terror with us. Therefore, it is our right to use all of our options."
When asked whether this new strategy stands to turn the Palestinian government into a target for Israel, al-Masri said: "What isn't a target for Israel? The children, the women, the families are all targets."
Referring to the possibility that Hamas' return to the path of violence may jeopardize international recognition of its government, al-Masri stated: "What international community are we talking about? The Americans, who did not even condemn the strike and that said Israel legitimately defended itself? They are worse than the Israelis. When entire families are eliminated, do we have any choice but to protect ourselves?"
Meanwhile, the funeral procession continued to move toward the Beit Lahiya cemetery, while the thousands of participants cried for revenge. Members of the Palestinian factions, mainly Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, took command of the rally and called for a continuation of the Jihad on Israel.
Reuters contributed to the report