Hilmi Arafeh said Sunday that when he heard last weekend that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was about to deliver an "important" speech about the ongoing crisis with Hamas, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "How many times in the last few weeks have we been told to await an important and historic speech by our president?" asked the 65-year-old grocery owner. "This reminds me of the times when Egyptian radio stations used to ask the Arab masses to await a dramatic and historic speech by [former Egyptian] president Gamal Abdul Nasser. In the end, he would either abstain from making the speech or he would say something trivial." Abbas, who is under immense pressure from his aides to dissolve the Hamas-controlled parliament and call early elections, appears to be reluctant to take such a drastic measure for fear of an all-out confrontation with the Islamic movement. Abbas reportedly told PLO leaders over the weekend that he has decided to call early elections next March. Over the past three months, his aides have announced at least six times that Abbas would "soon" deliver a speech to the Palestinian public in which he would explain why talks with Hamas over the formation of a unity government had failed. Following a meeting 10 days ago in Jericho with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, several Abbas aides were quick to announce that the PA chairman would deliver a speech within 48 hours in which he would call for early legislative and presidential elections. When Abbas failed to address the Palestinians, the aides said the speech would be made "in the coming hours." A week has passed since then and the Palestinian public is still waiting for the "important speech." PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo told Palestinian reporters last Saturday that Abbas would deliver the long-awaited speech this coming Thursday. "Frankly, I don't understand President Abbas," remarked a senior Fatah official. "He has been negotiating with Hamas for more than five months and it's obvious that Hamas does not want to make any concessions. I don't understand why he's afraid to make a decision." In an open letter to Abbas, Fatah's "youth organization" in the West Bank wrote: "Mr. President, each time we hear that you are about to deliver an important speech, we wait impatiently to hear what you have to say. Each time the media tells us that you will deliver a speech tomorrow or the day after, but nothing happens. We urge you, in all the languages in the world, to hurry up and deliver the speech." PA officials explained that Abbas's latest decision to postpone his planned speech came at the request of the Egyptians, who asked for one last chance to try to work out some kind of a deal that would bring about a Fatah-Hamas government. "The president was supposed to deliver a speech last week, but he decided to wait until next Thursday because Egypt wants to resume its mediation efforts between Hamas and Fatah," said one official. Another official said Abbas has decided to wait until Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh returns from his current Arab and Islamic tour before taking any dramatic measures against the Hamas-led government. "I think the president wants to hold one last meeting with Haniyeh before calling early elections," he added. "The fact that the president has repeatedly postponed his speech is not a sign of weakness, but an indication of his desire to avoid civil war." A source close to Abbas warned Sunday that the crisis with Hamas was "on the brink of exploding into civil war." According to the source, Hamas is unlikely to make any concessions in the wake of Haniyeh's high-profile visit to Iran and Syria. The source admitted that Abbas's credibility had been "severely undermined" by his failure to carry out his threats to dismiss the Hamas-led government. Haniyeh is expected to return to the Gaza Strip early next week amid reports that he had managed to collect $120 million in donations during his visit to Teheran and Damascus. And as the Palestinians continue to wait for Abbas's promised speech, tensions between Fatah and Hamas reached a new high Sunday when unidentified gunmen opened fire at the motorcade of Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam. The incident, which was described by Hamas as an assassination attempt, took place in the center of Gaza City. No one was hurt in the attack. In a separate incident, masked gunmen in Gaza City kidnapped Col. Hamoudeh Kafarneh, 50, of the PA National Security Force. No group claimed responsibility, but Palestinian security sources said they were convinced that Hamas was behind the abduction.