Palestinian factions delayed talks yesterday on a plan calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as Hamas rejected a 10-day deadline set by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Talks on the plan, drafted by Palestinian leaders jailed in Israel, had been expected to begin yesterday, but Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri said the leaders were still discussing a venue.
He said the meeting had not begun because "formation of the [negotiating] committee has not been finalized yet."
"Some factions want the dialogue to be held in Gaza because their representatives are there," Abu-Zuhri added.
The plan implicitly recognizes Israel. Hamas's charter calls for the Jewish state's destruction and the group has rejected calls by Abbas and Western powers to soften its position.
Abu-Zuhri said Hamas disagreed with a deadline set this week by Abbas for Hamas to accept the plan or face a national referendum in 40 days.
"There is no need for the 10-day idea. As long as we are talking about dialogue, there shouldn't be any dates set," Abu-Zuhri said.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior official with Abbas's Fatah movement, said the Palestinian president would invite Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and other top officials to discuss the plan today.
Responding to Hamas, Abed Rabbo said: "The law is like a knife with two sharp edges. Abbas has the legal right to fire the government" if Hamas rejects his plan.
Another threat of renewed tensions emerged in Gaza yesterday as several dozen members of a Hamas-led force were redeployed on several streets, a day after the 3,000-strong militia had been removed after calls by Abbas to disband it.
Youssef al-Zahar, a leader of the Hamas force, said the group had staged a "limited deployment" after Palestinian citizens complained to them about having removed the troops.
On Friday, the Hamas had withdrawn its militia from the streets of Gaza, pulling back from an increasingly bloody confrontation with security forces loyal to Abbas.
The power struggle between Hamas and Abbas has intensified in recent weeks, marked by street fighting that left 10 dead and dozens wounded. Abbas' bold challenge to Hamas, in giving the group 10 days to moderate or face a referendum, could either resolve the standoff or drive the political rivals toward even bloodier conflict.
In other developments on Friday, three Palestinian teens, ages 15-19, were killed and a fourth was seriously wounded in an explosion in northern Gaza. Palestinian medics initially said they were killed when an Israeli artillery hit a house, but the Israeli military said youths were handling explosives.
Relatives of the teens said they had found two unexploded Israeli tank shells and were trying to dismantle them to sell the explosives when the blast went off.
Also on Friday, a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli artillery fire on northern Gaza, hospital officials said. Israel frequently fires artillery in response to rocket fire from Gaza.
Hamas sent mixed signals to Abbas on Friday. It ordered its 3,000-strong militia off the streets, two weeks after first deploying the gunmen in a challenge to the regular security forces allied with Abbas. Hamas officials said on Friday the unit was temporarily withdrawing to six bases, but insisted it would not be disbanded.
Palestinian security forces took over the positions left behind by the militia, including a sandbagged post near the Egyptian Airlines office in Gaza City. Only a few dozen militiamen appeared in the streets on Friday, protecting Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as he attended noon prayers in the Jebaliya refugee camp near Gaza City.