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Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is expected to make a "dramatic announcement" this weekend regarding the ongoing crisis with Hamas over the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
PA officials told The Jerusalem Post Abbas was considering the possibility of firing the Hamas-led government and holding a national referendum on early parliamentary elections.
Sources close to Hamas warned that any move against the Hamas-led government would be seen as a coup and would aggravate tensions in the Palestinian arena. According to the sources, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas may cut short his current tour of a number of Arab and Islamic countries following Abbas's latest remarks.
Abbas, who met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jericho on Thursday, told a press conference after the meeting that the unity talks with Hamas had reached a "dead end."
Abbas has called an emergency meeting of the PLO executive committee for Friday to brief its members on the failure of the unity talks and his future plans, said one official, holding Hamas responsible.
"The negotiations with Hamas are over," said another PA official. "There's no point in pursuing the talks over the unity government because Hamas is not interested in partnership."
At the press conference, Abbas said he would now weigh all possible options after the failure of the talks with Hamas.
"A unity government is a very important goal for us, but the talks have reached a deadlock," he said. "This is very painful for us. We did not succeed in reaching the results we wanted. The Palestinian people have been suffering for nine months because of the lack of salaries and resources."
Abbas hinted that he was considering forming a government of technocrats.
"I want a government that will end the international sanctions," he said. "I'm not looking for names or people or members of Fatah or Hamas. All I want are respected people in the government."
Abbas stressed that he would do his utmost to avoid civil war.
"We absolutely reject civil war," he said. "We will study all available options in a manner that would serve the interests of all the Palestinians, and not just a certain faction."
Abbas said he discussed the current cease-fire in the Gaza Strip with Rice and expressed hope that it would be extended to the West Bank.
"Consolidating the cease-fire will pave the way for the resumption of the peace process in the Middle East," he said.
Rice urged Israelis and Palestinians to step up efforts to achieve peace. She said she had "deep admiration" for Abbas and praised his "extraordinary efforts" to form a unity government and his role in achieving the cease-fire.
"Hopefully we can take this moment to accelerate our efforts and intensify our efforts toward the two-state solution that we all desire," Rice said, reiterating her support for a "viable and contiguous" Palestinian state.
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed Hamas's charges that Abbas and his Fatah party were planning to stage a coup against the Hamas-led government. He also denied that Abbas's announcement about the failure of the talks with Hamas was linked to Rice's visit to the region.
Erekat called on Hamas to refrain from "exporting fear and conspiracy theories aimed at creating schism among Palestinians." He said Abbas will soon deliver an "important" speech in which he will explain to the Palestinian public the reasons behind the failure of the unity talks.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official and close adviser to Abbas, said the talks failed because of Hamas's refusal to cede control over the Foreign Affairs, Finance and Interior ministries.
"Hamas wants to cling on to power at any price," he said. "They are not serious about political partnership. They have done everything to foil the unity talks. These three ministries are important because they are the key to lifting the international sanctions imposed on our people."
PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas blamed Abbas for the failure of the talks. He said the real problem was that Abbas wanted a government that would meet the conditions set by Israel and the US.
Zahar lashed out at Rice's visit to the region, saying the Palestinians were not pinning any hopes on Washington.
"The visit is aimed at paving the way for more Israeli aggression on our people," he told reporters in Gaza City.