The violence began when Abbas said he would call early elections after talks on a unity government with the ruling Hamas party failed.

The president told the rally that the response to his election call last month was violence, and said those opposed to new polls should challenge the decision in the courts, not in the streets.

Unity talks

Abbas did not make it clear whether he was still determined to go ahead with his plan and made no reference to a resumption of unity talks.

"The priority for me is preserving national unity and preventing and prohibiting internal fighting"

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president
But presidential aides said that negotiations on bringing Fatah into the cabinet would resume soon and continue for two weeks. Rafiq Husseini said that if the talks failed, Abbas would proceed with early elections.

Abbas reiterated that the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which he heads, is responsible for negotiations with Israel. Outlining his positions in possible talks with Israel, he said he will not accept the formation of a Palestinian state in provisional borders, as Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, proposed last month.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, has called the idea a "non-starter".

Government programme

In previous talks with Hamas, Abbas insisted that the group soften its positions so the programme of the new coalition would be more acceptable to the international community.

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Hamas has been told recognise Israel's right to exist, to renounce arms and accept past agreements with Israel. Hamas, which won parliamentary elections last year, has refused.

Hamas is going into the talks with a revised agenda, including a demand that Ismail Haniya, the curernt prime minister, remain in the job, Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said.

In the previous round of talks, Haniya had agreed in principle to step down and let an independent be appointed in his place.

Hamas officials have also said that they are willing to compromise on a previous sticking point, control over the interior ministry which oversees the security forces, and would give the post to an independent.