In his latest action designed to increase pressure on Hamas, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met Thursday with members of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission to discuss the possibility of holding new elections or conducting a referendum in the PA territories.
"President Abbas is serious about holding new elections if Hamas continues to stick to its position," a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "He might also consider calling a referendum to see if the people want the Hamas government to remain in power."
Hamas representatives, however, warned Abbas against such moves, saying they would be tantamount to staging a coup against the Hamas-led government.
Abbas's meeting with the commission came amid reports that he was also considering the possibility of forming a "technocratic" government consisting of independent figures.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah legislator and close adviser to Abbas, said the PA chairman would make a final decision on this issue within the next few days.
"President Abbas has decided to support the idea of the technocratic government and he will make a decision soon," he said. "All attempts to establish a national unity government have failed and there's no point in continuing the negotiations [with Hamas]."
Hamas dismissed Abbas's idea of holding a referendum or installing a government of independent technocrats, saying it would only aggravate tensions with Fatah.
PA Interior Minister Said Siam warned that Hamas would consider any referendum on the fate of the government to be an attempted coup.
"We reject making the referendum like a bogeyman to resort to in such situations," he said. "President Mahmoud Abbas has powers, yes, and he can exercise his powers within the legal limits." But, he added, "The situation here is not about powers. The referendum would be a coup against the legitimacy this government enjoyed. There is US support for whoever wants to topple the government."
In a separate development, tensions between Fatah and Hamas were running high in Nablus after the assassination of a local Hamas leader, Ammar Taher.
PA security officials said Taher, 47, was gunned down by unidentified gunmen as he walked out of a mosque in the city late Wednesday night. Although no group claimed responsibility for the killing, Hamas leaders blamed local Fatah gunmen.