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Abbas puts statehood referendum on hold -sources

Written by: Staff
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RAMALLAH, West Bank, July 5 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has put on hold plans for a July 26 referendum on a statehood proposal that implicitly recognises Israel, Palestinian officials and diplomats said today.

The referendum was widely expected to be cancelled after the governing Hamas faction and Abbas reached a political deal, which has yet to be formally signed by faction leaders.

Opinion polls showing Abbas might lose the referendum, and an Israeli military offensive aimed at freeing a soldier abducted by Gaza militants, also raised expectations that the vote would be called off.

''The electoral commission received a formal letter (from Abbas's office) asking the commission to freeze all the preparations temporarily,'' said a Palestinian source involved in the process. ''It's on hold, suspended.'' A Western diplomat said of the referendum: ''It's as dead as dead gets.'' Penned by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the statehood proposal called for a Palestinian state, alongside Israel, on all of the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

Hamas initially rejected the referendum as an attempt to topple the government.

Advocates of the referendum said its passage would have amounted to a vote of no-confidence in the Hamas-led government and its policies.

REUTERS PKS HT1737

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