Mahmoud Abbas told delegates from Palestinian factions on Monday that efforts aimed at getting the Hamas government to recognise Israel have failed, and he will call a referendum, a participant at last-minute talks said.

The meeting ended minutes before a midnight deadline Abbas had given Hamas to accept a document written by prominent Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli jail, accepting a Palestinian state and impliticly recognising Israel.

A statement from Abbas's office said: "President Abbas will set a date for the referendum after the meeting on Tuesday of the PLO Executive Committee and parliamentary caucuses."

Hamas has been calling for more time to discuss the proposal and suggested changes in the language. But Abbas, who has avoided confrontation since taking office early last year, rejected Hamas's demands on Monday.

"If anyone wants to amend this document, then we will not reach any results," Abbas said after meeting Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief.

Crushing sanctions

Abbas has endorsed the plan as a way to end crushing sanctions against the Palestinians and allow him to resume peace talks with Israel.

The US, European Union and Israel have cut off cash transfers to the Palestinian government since Hamas won legislative elections earlier this year.

In a TV talk, Haniya called the
deadline 'a sword at our necks'

The Western countries want Hamas to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

The plan was formulated by politically powerful Hamas and Fatah prisoners held in Israeli jails. But the group's exiled leaders, who make final decisions on policy, have refused to accept the proposal.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials reacted angrily to Abbas's threats on Monday. Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, in a brief interview with Israel's Channel 10 TV, favoured "a continuation of the dialogue", and opposed the deadline, which he called "a sword at our necks".

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the group was ready to continue negotiations, but rejected any deadline set by Abbas. "We are against the referendum. We are not going to accept it, and we reject this referendum," he said.

Violent struggle

The dispute comes amid an increasingly violent power struggle between Abbas and the Hamas-led government. Since Hamas was sworn into office in March, Abbas has taken steps to curb its authority.

Many Palestinians are uneasy about the referendum, though polls show the document would be approved easily.

A Palestinian fighter was killed
by Israel in Jabaliya on Monday

The Palestinian infighting has turned deadly in recent weeks. Sixteen people have died in clashes between Hamas and Fatah loyalists, including five killed on Sunday.

Five Palestinians were wounded in two clashes in the southern city of Khan Yunus on Monday, security officials said.

Also on Monday, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a car in the Jabaliya refugee camp next to Gaza city, the military said, killing two fighters and wounding two bystanders, according to Palestinian hospital officials.

Israel said the main target, a fighter from the renegade Popular Resistance Committees, was involved in firing rockets at Israel. He died of his wounds.