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Abbas to hold referendum on any Israeli peace deal

Written by: Staff

JERUSALEM, May 4 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview published today that he intended to ask Palestinians to vote by referendum on any peace deal with Israel, sidestepping the Hamas-led government.

Speaking before the swearing-in of incoming Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's new government later today, Abbas told the Israeli daily Maariv that Israel should not be deterred from renewing peace talks despite Hamas's control of the Palestinian Authority.

''We should not miss this opportunity,'' Abbas said.

''It is my intention to bring the results of the negotiations (with Israel), if and when they end, to the Palestinian people in the form of a referendum and to give the Palestinian people the right to decide,'' he added.

Olmert has vowed to set Israel's permanent borders by 2010 by evacuating isolated Jewish settlements while strengthening major blocs, a move he said he would make unilaterally if there were no peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials say Olmert is likely to meet Abbas in the coming weeks, but said they saw little chance of peace talks until the Hamas-led Palestinian government renounced violence, recognised Israel and embraced existing peace agreements with Israel.

Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, says talks with the Jewish state would be a waste of time.

Abbas suggested a peace deal could be reached over Hamas's objections.

''The Palestinian people will decide and I am certain that there is an overwhelming majority among the Palestinian people for peace, an overwhelming majority in favour of an agreement with Israel,'' Abbas told Maariv.

Palestinians oppose Olmert's ''convergence plan'', which they say is tantamount to annexing land they seek for a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, captured by Israel in the 1967 West Asia war. Israel withdrew from Gaza last year.

Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely abided by a year-old ceasefire.

Reuters KD GC1218

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